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TV Series Review

So tell me again: Why did we ever leave the 1960s? I don't have a lot of first-hand experience with the decade outside of diapers and baby formula. But from what I gather watching television these days, everything then was pretty awesome. Well, everything except the racism and sexism and LSD, of course. The men wore crisp suits and the women were all seriously gorgeous and everything was fresh and new and plastic. No one was worried about global warming or militant Islam. Even the threat of nuclear war was easily thwarted by telling kids to hide under their desks at school. Happy carefree days, those must've been.

The newest old show designed to teach us all about that grand decade of yore is ABC's Pan Am, a stylish look at the legendary—and now defunct—airline and its coiffed-to-the-nines stewardesses. "You think you're about the jet set, Mad Men?" ABC seems to be saying. "We've got your jet set right here! And it's set on jets!"

The series focuses on four adventurous women experiencing the paradox of unfettered freedom (in the form of worldwide travel) in an age of societal rigor (in which proper women were expected to stay home and cook casseroles). We meet Maggie, the head stewardess who has just shed her suspension for failing to wear a girdle; Laura, a LIFE magazine cover girl who left her hubby at the altar to see the world; Kate, who is also a secret government agent; and Colette, a Frenchwoman who likes to drive as fast as she flies.

These ladies, the program insinuates, are the liberated women of the day—permitted to go where they want, sleep with whom they wish and pull down a steady paycheck all the while. But they are also not allowed to get married, and they get their weight checked before every flight to make sure they're sufficiently comely for the wandering eyes of traveling menfolk.

Pan Am doesn't have the dramatic heft of Mad Men—but it doesn't have the content either. Early on, its characters don't appear to be nearly as promiscuous as the AMC show's Don Draper, and while sexual themes are explored (and we do occasionally see women make out with various international men), they're not as provocatively plumbed as they are on cable. Bad language—at least by contemporary network standards—is sparse, in keeping with the period of the show.

In short, Pan Am feels about as deceptively "innocent" as the age in which it's set. This is not a tawdry show, but it can be seductive. It's not often crude—but when it is, the impact is greater because of the context. These aren't friendly skies—not precisely. But, again, compared with much of what's on television now, they are at least semi-cordial.

They're also only semi-interesting. Pan Am, with its nostalgic sheen and competent writing offers you the television equivalent of a small package of peanuts and a complimentary soda: just enough to make you feel like you got a little something for your trouble … but not enough to satisfy.

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Episode Reviews

PanAm: 1022011



Readability Age Range





Christina Ricci as Maggie; Margot Robbie as Laura; Kelli Garner as Kate; Karine Vanasse as Colette; Michael Mosley as Ted; Annabelle Wallis as Bridget; Mike Vogel as Dean






Record Label




On Video

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Paul Asay

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