There was a lot of hype around Pan Am just before it came out – hype that quickly fizzled when it hit screens.
I was little apprehensive therefore when I got the complete series one box set (there is no series two), despite the fact that the producer (Thomas Schlamme) of my favourite programme ever, The West Wing, was involved.
But by the time I’d finished watching the 14 episodes that make up Pan Am, I actually found that I really liked the series.
Yes, it was full of flaws, primarily that it couldn’t make up its mind what type of a programme it was meant to be. One minute it was all about the glamourous lives of air stewardesses, the next it was a spy drama. One episode would be a lighthearted love story, the next would be a comment on the political situation in Haiti. It was more soap, less drama.
Pan Am never quite got into its rhythm, too desperate trying to be everything at once. It was at its best when it focused on its characters and their work, and skipped the big messages – and the spy angle.
That doesn’t mean Pan Am wasn’t good when it focused on what a changing time the 1960s were in America. Among the good plot lines was one where Laura (Margot Robbie), and a young black sailor found themselves fighting (literally) against racists and bigots when they appeared in public together. The plot was a good insight into race relations, yet at the same time showed us Laura’s depth – up until then she’d largely been the sweet, pretty one. And Maggie (Christina Ricci) was at her best when she found herself stuck between her attraction to a Republican senator and her hippie views. The rest of the time she was just annoying in her “rebelliousness”.
The spy element was a huge part of much of Pan Am, but I never felt it quite fit in with whatever else was going on. We never quite found out why Kate (Kelli Garner) decided to work for the government on the sly in addition to being a stewardess, and when things started getting heated (a lover from Yugoslavia, a colleague turned rogue), I never quite found myself believing in any of it. It seemed this aspect of Pan Am was a whole separate programme.
My favourite characters were young pilot Dean (Mike Vogel), who stood for the first generation of Americans and American pilots who had nothing to do with the Second World War, and Colette (Karine Vanasse), the French stewardess whose past was filled was pain. Both characters had depth, and felt more well-rounded than anyone else, even though they too weren‘t always well written (particularly in regards to Dean’s romantic liaisons).
Unsurprisingly, because it was cut short Pan Am ends very suddenly, and there are plenty of loose ends that you just have to tie up in your own imagination.
Pan Am will never win awards, it will never be a cult hit, it will never be talked about in the same breath as Mad Men unless it‘s to say how it’s a much, much poorer relation, but there was something fun and frivolous about it which means I’ll be watching it again.