Fall TV Preview

Does ABC's Pan Am Enjoy a Smooth Takeoff? Our Fall TV First Impression

The broadcast networks have more than 30 shows debuting this fall, including Steven Spielberg’s dino-mite Terra Nova, J.J. Abrams’ Person of Interest, and a U.S. adaptation of the UK’s Prime Suspect. To help you prep for it all, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. Next on our list is…

THE SHOW | ABC’s Pan Am (Sundays at 10/9c, premiering Sept. 25)

THE COMPETITION | CBS’ CSI: Miami, NBC’s Sunday Night Football, Showtime’s Homeland (new, premiering Oct. 2) and AMC’s Hell on Wheels (new, premiering Nov. 6)

THE CAST | Christina Ricci (The Ice Storm) as Maggie, Kelli Garner (The Aviator) as Kate, Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Colette, Margot Robbie (Neighbours) as Laura, Mike Vogel (Blue Valentine) as Dean, and Michael Mosley (Justified) as Ted

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THE SET-UP | The year is 1963. The airline is Pan Am. The big event is the maiden flight of the Boeing 707 Clipper Majestic, from New York to Paris. In fast order — and with tunes such as “Around the World I Searched for You” punctuating it all — we meet Dean, the newly promoted captain (recast since the original pilot with Vogel), and his first mate Ted, followed by the four stewardesses. Kate is an old pro at Pan Am, but has decided to use her globe-trotting gig to dabble in espionage; Kate’s sister Laura is just three weeks into the job, but somehow landed herself on the cover of Life as the face of “The New Jet Age”; Frenchwoman Colette is about to be dealt a harsh truth about her paramour; and Maggie has been “grounded” for a bit of rule-breaking, but is called upon for this important flight when Dean’s girlfriend Bridget mysteriously goes AWOL.

More of TVLine’s First Impressions: NBC’s Up All Night and The Playboy Club, Fox’s Terra Nova and New Girl, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Charlie’s Angels, The CW’s The Secret Circle and Ringer, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and Person of Interest

THE GOOD | The masses will ask: Is this Mad Men? Nope, nor do I see instances where it blatantly aspires to be. In fact, the vibe I got upon multiple viewings was far more Titanic, with the luxurious Clipper Majestic’s crew and passengers full of wonder as they engage in this shiny-new journey. And speaking of setting the mood: While maybe not quite as transportive with its details as Mad Men, Pan Am comes pretty close (and is far superior to NBC’s 1960s-set The Playboy Club). Among the cast, no one rings terribly false or era-inappropriate, with Vanasse (a heart-tugging standout), Garner and Robbie slipping into their roles the most comfortably. I liked Generation Kill‘s Jonah Lotan just fine as the original Dean, but TVLine reader response suggests that Vogel is bound to be an upgrade.

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | The use of flashbacks to inform us how several characters got to this place (unlikely stewardess, lovestruck pilot, rookie spy) is effective, though seeing the gang get mixed up in the Bay of Pigs invasion is sure to make a few viewers go, “Oh, come on.” (The producers have since assured me that the crew won’t always be a part of historical events, but oftentimes will be adjacent to or affected by them.) Ricci, whom some might incorrectly assume is the star here (if only based on her film resume), is given little to do in the pilot aside from snark at her beatnik roommate and quietly crush on Dean. Yes, the clunky espionage subplot is a keeper — the producers note that it is the Cold War and all — but it’d be best served in sparing doses. Lastly: Busting out “Mack the Knife” already? Save some musical goodies for later in the season.

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THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | I liked Pan Am on first viewing, and liked it even more the second time around. Part of its thrill comes from revisiting a time when air travel was something you got dressed up for (and not undressed for, by the TSA), while the look and tone of the show is just fun. Given the competition (namely end-of-game football and the long-running CSI: Miami), how much turbulence Pan Am experiences in the ratings may depend on the lead-in it gets from those Desperate Housewives, who are now on their victory lap and catfighting with CBS’ transplanted Good Wife.

Watch a video preview for Pan Am, then vote in our poll below.