Pan Am: Season 1
Once again the American television public has been waxing nostalgic. It happens on a fairly regular basis and has resurfaced a few years ago. The last time this happened the decade at the center of the resulting TV series was the fifties, the time we baby boomers were children. Television has currently moved us up to the sixties, the decade we came of age. The nostalgic resurgence began with the widely successful dramatic show on AMC, ‘Mad Men’. It depicted a time when women wore stiff undergarments, men had slicked back hair and ties and everyone smoked cigarettes, everywhere. A few shows have attempted to jump on this bandwagon with limited success. ‘Pam Am’, was one of the more promising ones. Unfortunately, it has been added to the ever expanding cancelled before its time roster. The series had a lot of potential, even winning awards overseas but ABC decided not to give the show the chance to grow into that potential. Apparently there was some consideration to move the series to the new distribution venue, video on demand, but alas, a deal with distributors could not be reached. I watched a couple of episodes with my daughter to give a glimpse of what was expected of a young woman in the early sixties. The Pan American stewardess, the focus of this show, were commonly viewed as one of the best jobs available, you get to travel the world and were paid to experience life that the girls back home could only dream about; and you were nicely paid for it. Demographically the women accepted into those lofty ranks were educated, slim, and were fluent in at least a couple of languages. Of course many men considered tem as flying waitresses and treated them as such but it certainly beat performing many of the same functions at the local diner. A significant part of the series’ appeal was how it infused another popular trope of the sixties into the stories; espionage. This was the decade dominated by the cold war and infatuated with spies; the time that gave us James Bond and a small army of imitators. The characters held a lot of possibilities for development and thanks to the premise the episodes literally could span the globe. ABC should have granted a second season to this series and helped it find its voice.
Set in the beginning of the sixties Pan American Airlines was about to embrace the new jet age in a big way; international clipper class service. This was a far cry from the rack ‘em and stack ‘em service frequent fliers are forced to endure today. The jets used by the airline for this endeavor were large, perhaps smaller than some of the jumbo jets in use currently but dedicated to carrying fewer passengers. This permitted the airline to turn a jet plane into opulent accommodations offering a level of luxury usually reserved for the finest restaurants or hotels. At the core of this passenger treatment was the Pan Am stewardess, the epitome of grace and femininity. In this show a group of four was at the heart of the stories as they unfolded. Kate Cameron (Kelli Garner), a feisty red head and experienced stewardess. Traveling on most of Kate’s assignments is her younger sister Laura (Margot Robbie). The Cameron sisters come from a wealthy family with a high ranking in society. Kate was always the rebellious one taking on life on her own terms. Laura was jealous of this since the role of the good daughter fell to her. When Kate flies in for Laura’s wedding the pair run off with Laura quickly training to be a Pan Am stewardess. A candid photograph of Laura in uniform becomes a cove of Life magazine inadvertently making her the face of the airline.
Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci) is a tiny package embodying the liberal spirit of the decade. A social activist, JFK election worker and reader of the Village Voice Maggie lived in New York’s bohemian Greenwich Village with some friends. She is determined to broaden her experience by using the job to see the world. Many Stewardesses are in the job to find a suitable husband and settle down, but not Maggie. Her rebellious streak does get her in trouble at work. She was suspended for a uniform infraction when during preflight weigh in and inspection she was without the mandatory girdle, Maggie is a senior member of the crew functioning as the plane as the purser. Finally, there is Colette Valois (Karine Vanasse), is French by birth, young and free spirited. In the first episode she is emotionally devastated when her boyfriend turned out to be married with a young son. On the male side is Dean Lowrey (Mike Vogel), who has the distinction of being the youngest aviator to achieve the coveted rank of international pilot. This designation is a cause of friction with his first officer Ted Vanderway (Michael Mosley). Ted was honorably discharged from the Navy after being blamed for a serious crash.
The series could have been just another prime time soap opera following the romantic adventures of this group of exceptionally attractive young people. The element injected into the premise that set the series significantly above this overly visited genre is, as alluded to above; spies. Kate is approached by the CIA to become an asset; a person that performs various assignments for them, this is not as farfetched as some might think. The CIA frequently recruited civilians in such a capacity and stewardesses were an ideal option. Young women like Kate are well educated, multilingual and resourceful with a perfect cover for traveling to a myriad of counties. This element added an excellent source of plot points and themes to infuse the episodes with a sense of danger and excitement. To achieve a proper balance between the personal lives of the crew and Kate’s secret identity requires time to develop. This season was off to a reasonably good start but unfortunately the network failed to show the support the series deserved. The main threads were expertly supported by sun plots such as one with Kate’s predecessor, Bridget Pierce (Annabelle Wallis). She was the former purser and was romantically involved with Dean before recommending to the CIA that Kate replace her as an asset. The series mad have ended too abruptly but it’s worth owning on DVD.