Thursday, October 06, 2011

Review: PAN AM

There’s an old adage in show business that actors hate to work with children or dogs because they steal the scene. In PAN AM it’s plates.

I don’t know about you but when I watched the pilot of PAN AM and they were in the air I was completely distracted by the fact that all the food was served on real plates. And the passengers appeared to have legroom. In fact, one family seemed to have their own little private section. Really? Wow. The story line had something to do with one of the stewardesses banging the guy’s husband but I was too entranced that the kid had what appeared to be his own little coffee table to draw on.

That’s the Faustian contract you sign when you try to ride MAD MEN’S coattails. Your hook is the era, the nostalgia. MAD MEN did it in reverse. Matt Weiner focused on the characters and used the time period because it best fit the story he was trying to tell. There are, from time to time, scenes of Don Draper in planes and you never wonder whether his in-flight meals will be served on china. But with PAN AM, that’s all I could concentrate on.

There was a scene where two sister stewardesses were trying to work out some deep dish issue. They were on a little couch. They had little couches? I know there were lounges in early versions of 747’s but didn’t think they had them on those planes. Where in the cabin were they located? Why weren't passengers on them?

Another stewardess was preparing to slip some covert item in a passenger’s briefcase. She must be some spy. But she was in the galley and there appeared to be a full wet bar set up. Cool! Is that the way they poured drinks those days? Was this before those tiny bottles? I have no idea what she was trying to achieve vis a vis the espionage, but how much training did Pan Am stews have bartending?

There’s a flashback to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs Invasion where refugees are loaded onto the plane. The story line I think involves one of the stewardesses almost missing the flight and the pilot proposing. I forget whether she accepted or not. What I wanted to know was whether the refugees also got meals and were the meals the same quality and on the same plates? And were the refugees allowed to call ahead to book special meals like kosher or vegetarian?

So my big problem with PAN AM is this: what happens in week four when there’s nothing novel anymore about letting passengers visit the cockpit or seeing people actually dress up to take a flight? Are the characters strong enough? Are the stories compelling enough? Will the themes resonate? I dunno. Based on the pilot the plates win.

28 comments:

Charlie O'Brien said...

Another shallow, non-compelling show. No reason to watch it - hurry, pull it like "Playboy Club" while there's still time.

Mac said...

In week 4 they drop the Mad Men influence and crash on a tropical island with a polar bear on it. It's a big change of direction, but no plates survive the crash.

Tom said...

Can't recall the airline but my first trip on a 747 was from Chicago to Miami in 1973 and we were served a hot roast beef lunch on china with silverware. The plane was uncrowded enough that one of the flight attendants had time to take a few of us upstairs to the lounge, where my memory tells me there was a piano bar, but that might be the senility talking.

Bill White said...

My Wife and I were more distracted by the fact that even though Christina Ricci only had "30 minutes" to make the flight, she still was able to squeeze in getting her hair cut...

Sebastian said...

Hey Ken,

I've been reading for roughly three years now (our four? Is it four already?) and yesterday came across David Isaac's IMDb page.

Did he really get a Writers Guild of America award? Did you mention this here? Did I miss it? Not that you had to mention it it just puzzled me yesterday when I started watching "Newsradio" since you mentioned it in the summary post about Comedy Shows and had to make sure it was the "right" Isaacs listed in the credits - apparently there are five of them and none of them programmed any computer games so what good are they?

And what puzzled me even more was that Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame won that award with him. Phew. Please tell me that those things on IMDb were correct :-)

MBunge said...

"That’s the Faustian contract you sign when you try to ride MAD MEN’S coattails."


Uh, I don't think "Faustian" is the right word. I believe the appropriate description is "futile", as in "It's futile to try and ride the coattails of a show nobody really watches."

Mike

Terry said...

I recently started watching "Mad Men" on Netflix (hey, better late than never) and your reaction to "Pan Am" is the same reaction I had to the first few episodes of "Mad Men."

I was so distracted by all of the "Hey, look, it's the early 60s and things were different then!" things they were doing (i.e. tons of smoking and drinking, kids riding without seatbelts, blatant sexual harassment, etc.) that I couldn't focus on the story.

Fortunately, after a couple of episodes, that stuff faded into the background and I became more interested in the characters and story. I haven't watched "Pan Am," but maybe the same thing will happen there.

Steve said...

I'm kinda in the know I believe (hope!) the episodes get stronger.

RCP said...

"Are the characters strong enough? Are the stories compelling enough? Will the themes resonate?"

Having spent too much time during the past two episodes salivating over the vintage cars, I'm wondering this too. The last 20 minutes of episode two showed promise with the female characters, but it's still jarring to see 20-something pilots.

And those carriers! At 6'2, I would welcome such roominess. Not to mention some of that fine food. About all you can say about flying these days is that it's better than going by covered wagon.

Ken Levine said...

Sebastian,

David has won several WGA Awards. Two with me and one for his work on MAD MEN, second season. I make him pay for lunch because he has more awards than me.

I Love to Watch said...

"...one of the stewardesses banging the guy’s wife...?

Really? I missed that one. I'm gonna have to watch, I loves me some hot girl-on-girl action. Hope theres more.

YEKIMI said...

I make him pay for lunch because he has more awards than me.

Yeah, but does he have more money than you? That's why I'D make him pay for lunch.

Ron said...

I'm hoping this will strong enough to be a "Grand Hotel" of the air. Of course, like Ken, I remember the time period and the airliner, ocean liner and Super Chief travel during the period.

Michael in Vancouver said...

Completely off topic, but not sure where to post this. Recently The Guardian newspaper (UK) compiled a list of the best sitcom spin-offs, which was topped by Frasier, "a show that not only matches the brilliance of its parent programme – in this case the bar-based sitcom behemoth Cheers – but arguably improves on it."

And then today, in a list of the best series finales, The Guardian puts MASH at the top of the heap: "The episode itself was a perfect representation of the series, plenty of melancholy, a heavy dose of dark comedy and the full horrors of war never too far away."

I'd consider these especially high praise coming from a UK paper, given the high quality of their TV programs and what finicky viewers they are. Well, no question here. Just thought you'd want to know.

Sebastian said...

Thanks for the answer Ken, I appreciate it a lot :-)

Pat Reeder said...

Yet another example of how everything used to be a lot better and now, everything's going to hell.

Pardon the rant, but I'm auditioning to replace Andy Rooney.

What I like best about this show is seeing people well-dressed on planes. I read recently on a travel tips site that some airlines actually pick people out of the line if they're well-dressed to give them free upgrades when seats are available. It's so rare to see someone who doesn't look like Emmitt Kelly that they assume those people must be well-heeled and more likely to buy first class tickets in the future if they try it.

Fitz said...

As a teenager I traveled on a DC-7 that had about seven seats in the rear arranged in a semicircle with a couple of tables. I was ready to coldcock a little old lady if I had to to get one. Luckily the plane was less than full so I had my choice.

Continuing the less than full vein, one day in the early 'sixties my father boarded an early morning flight in Charleston, SC. Turned out he was the only passenger. The pilot strolled back and said "Well, where do you want to go?"

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The one airline I remember serving food on real china in the (late) 1970s was WardAir, a Canadian outfit. I wonder if it was more common before dergulation, when the airlines could charge more because they didn't have to compete and therefore had higher levels of service.

Of course, one reason not to carry plates (aside from breakage) is that they're heavy. I'm sure it's better for fuel consumption to bring on the meals pre-prepared in those plastic trays, however much less appetizing it is.

The one thing that distracted me in the opening episodes of Mad Men was Sally coming in wearing a plastic dry cleaning bag over her head. Much later in the series, a lot of people I know had a lot of trouble with the scene where the Drapers leave all their trash behind after a picnic.

Oddly enough, the thing that sometimes distracts me in the show is some small absolutely correct detail - in one scene, I remember a character had exactly the same alarm clock I did in that year in real life. "I had that alarm clock!" does nothing for keeping your transfixed by the story. :)

wg

Anonymous said...

The thing that struck me was how wide the aisles were on the show. I remember flying 1960's era jets and they were less than half the width on Pan Am's jet "set". I do recall flying on PSA in the late 60's with my mother. In the back of the 727 there was a small lounge area with a couch, well more like along curved bench seat, but it was there along with the late 60's era outfits the stews wore, min-skirts, go go boots and those hats like the ones the girls at hot dog on a stick wear. That was a sweet time for flying, at least for a ten year old it was. I don't see how Pan Am will survive on TV, but stranger things have happened. They just have to decide what kind of show it will be, a soap in the air, a cold war espionage thriller, or something else...

Bryan Simmons

DBA said...

I don't disagree with any of your point, but I was led to believe that the main point of the show is essentialy "look at how many Pan Am stewardesses were spies". So...the premise is really supposed to be more ALIAS-on-a-plane. (Or I've been misled.) But anyway, if that's where they're supposed to be going, in theory there should be somewhere to go besides what was or wasn't novel about being on a plane at that time.

Paul Duca said...

I'm so persnickity about period detail I get bothered by things others wouldn't It's supposed to be 1963, or thin case, even 1962, given the "six months earlier" flashback. When big stister stew and her little sis flee the latter's wedding, they jump into a Caddy convertible, and accidently back into the car behind them.
That vehicle shouldn't have been there, as it was a 1965 or '66 Rambler.

Paul Duca said...

Separate new season update...Hank Azaria is getting it coming and going. NBC just canned his JUST FRIENDS sitcom, while Fox is making noises about ending THE SIMPSONS unless the core voice actors, which includes Azaria, take a big pay cut/

sephim said...

Keep it going on long enough that people can just submit spec scripts full of lines from AIRPLANE! and hope nobody notices...

jackscribe said...

I'm trying to like Pam Am...but the story lines are, IMHO, feeble. I actually worked for Pan Am in 1968-69 as a Flight Service Supervisor (five years later than the story) and there was a curved banquette seating area near the entrance with a mounted coffee table for 707 first class passengers. The cabin set is overly spacious for filming I suspect. The food - first class and economy - was cooked in-flight, and the first class service included china, silverware and glassware. BTW, the captains I knew were fairly senior...point; the blond hunky captain in the show just wouldn't have been flying in the left chair.

jcs said...

Matthew Weiner uses the historic background in Mad Men in a quite a subversive way. Just when you get too comfy with admiring 60s details, you get hit over the head. The designated agency director who lost a leg during the lawnmover accident? Nobody can accept a cripple as a boss. The Jewish dept. store owners? Why don't they go to a nice little Jewish ad agency? Patient doctor privilege? Doesn't count when the husband calls the shrink. Weiner never lets us forget the drawbacks of this bygone era.

Paul Duca said...

The main Boston paper has a "Letter to the (Arts) Editor" in its Sunday section. Recently the mother of one of the victims of Flight 103 (the Pan Am plane blown up by a terrorist bomb over Scotland in 1988) wrote in about PAN AM. She was hurt, as it was the airline's negligence and incompetence that caused the tragedy, and now Pan Am would be thought of again simply in terms of glamor and excitement by people..such as several previous letter writers praising the show as a kicky nostalgia trip.

Kaleberg said...

I remember being served on real plates back in the mid-60s, though Sabena had little rectangular glass dishes with metal lids. They also had human size seats, but jet fuel was free back then, and air fares were set by the cartel unless you wanted a stop in Reykjavik.

Pan Am's Trippe cultivated the glamor thing starting in the 30s. He got Pan Am designated the official US carrier, and that built up the mystique. Since they flew everywhere, some of the pilot stories were amazing. Bet you can't guess why you should always refuel right after you land in politically unstable countries.

I think it would have made more sense to set the series in the 30s with the flying clippers. They not only had plates, but bedrooms, a living area and a dining room. That, and Nazi spies if you needed some kind of plot device. It's tough doing enough drama on an eight hour flight. An overnighter offers more possibilities.

Niagara222 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.