Friday, 18 November 2011

Pan Am: Enough going on to really take off. DO YOU GET IT?


Well. That was a load of camp old nonsense wasn't it? Not that a US drama show about four air stewardesses with neat hats, retro-flavoured flight bags and complicated personal lives was ever going to be gritty and demanding.

But Pan Am's nod to a real life event - in episode one we see the heroic crew rescuing the Bay of Pigs prisoners from Cuba at Christmas time in 1962 - was surprising as it was amusing, like you’d just sat on the remote and your television found the History Channel by mistake. The scene was all wind machines and soldiers with guns and an inappropriately-timed marriage proposal while the plane waits to depart under the cover of darkness.

What was probably a well-intentioned historical reference to show Pan Am’s role in important international events and that, ended up just looking a bit silly and got lost among all of the jet-setting and glamour.

The four female leads, Kate, Kate’s sister Laura, Collette (she’s French) and purser Maggie (played by Christina Ricci) may well make you think of Sex and the City, what with their modern 1960s New York lifestyles.

But the painstaking period detail reminds you of Mad Men, and the whole thing’s mixed up with a bit of Judith Chalmers travelling all over the planet and self-consciously taking part in the Local Culture.

So inevitably the women find themselves drinking pints in London town (it's raining and there's red buses); taking coffee with mysterious strangers in bistros in Rome, or scenes set in hotel rooms with the Eiffel Tower seen through the window.

Added to that, the whole thing’s peppered with flashbacks to an abandoned wedding in, erm, Connecticut.

Those flashbacks, although a bit irritating (the tv equivalent of someone yelling the word ‘BACKSTORY’ in your ear, with a megaphone), tell us how Laura came to be a flight attendant but actually aren’t that interesting, while scenes set on board the plane during flights – think banter with the captain, unwanted advances from a drunken passenger or awkward encounters with your married lover and his wife – are all bit ‘Women faced struggle but were strong even in the sixties everyone!’

But the biggest story surprise is also the oddest: former Pan Am purser of choice, Bridget – a hoity-toity English bird – has disappeared, and via scenes set across the entire planet (or at least cities on the list of Pan Am destinations), it turns out she's actually working undercover for MI6. Fancy!

She’s not that good a spy mind you, as her cover gets blown and she is ‘compromised’, so she has to disappear – having to assume a new alias and go live in Missouri – but, during a scene set in a Parisian church (where else? It’s very international, this), it’s revealed she nominated her former air hostess colleague Kate to be recruited in her place.

Who would have guessed Pam Am would also be twenty per cent Spooks?

So it’s a bit of a soap, and a bit of a soup, so as a result it has a bit of an identity crisis, but it all looks great, it's very slick, and the green screen's doing overtime – and the fact that there’s an actual full-size plane decked out in Pan Am livery shows that the producers are taking sixties authenticity seriously, even though all those scenes in metropolitan European cities were filmed in a back lot in New York.

How the rest of the series plays out is another thing, but, for now it looks like there’s enough going on for Pam Am to really take off. DO YOU GET IT?

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