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

TVLine’s Fall TV Premieres Calendar: Save the 101 Dates!

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.

Fall 2011 TV Grid: Where Did Your Favorite Shows Land?

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.

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47 Comments
  1. Templar says:

    Please tell me we aren’t going to be subjected to the whole Kennedy thing. Not seeing anything appealing here so far. Probably a miss for me.

    • Wes says:

      Yep, it doesn’t sound appealing to me either. I haven’t watched anything with Christina Ricci since Casper the Ghost.

  2. Juan says:

    I will definately be watching it after the final season of Desperate housewives. It looks fun

  3. SAM says:

    I wasn’t going to check it out at all but Mr. Mitovich’s review has persuaded me to at least watch it once or twice and see if I want to stay with it.

    • april-ann says:

      Same here, especially when Matt says he liked it on first viewing and liked it even more the second time around. My hesitation to watch it at all has to do with the fact that this is ABC, and I’d be afraid I might really like it. This looks like the type of show that would disappear after three episodes if the first episode’s ratings were not through the roof.

    • wordsmith says:

      Agreed. I was on the fence as well, but I think I’m sold now.

  4. Laurel says:

    I’m looking forward to it.
    I like Christina Ricci and I like the retro storyline.

    • MC Roberts says:

      Are you people nuts??? This show is glorifying the airline that was bankrupted by the Lockerbie bombing – why are we glorifying such a tragedy???

      • Joseph says:

        What does that have to do with anything? Pan Am wasn’t responsible for Lockerbie; they were a victim. And the show is set more than 20 years before that event, when Pan Am represented glamour and excitement.

      • Mark says:

        It was *the* airline. It then was on the wrong side of history after being badly managed for quite a while. That doesn’t undo what it was.

      • gigi wolf says:

        By that logic, I’m afraid we’d lose 90% of our entertainment! Movies and shows about wars, the slave trade, the sex trade, revolution, the Titanic, murder, the Mob movies, etc. etc.

  5. Josh says:

    There is something about the joy their job brings to them that makes the trailer so endearing. Looking forward to it!

    • AC says:

      Well said Josh.
      I will likely being checking it out once Breaking Bad’s season is over. I also like the reviewer’s comment about the characters being affected by historical, but hopefully they won’t be in many themselves. That will probably be key to me.

  6. Michael Sacal says:

    I didn’t know about the espionage angle before reading this. I guess it makes sense to add something like that to it so that the show has something of interest and isn’t stale.

  7. Andre says:

    Looks bad. Sky Sluts.

  8. Melanie says:

    bah!!! we cant watch the video who arent in the US :/

  9. MissM13 says:

    Once again, a preview that cannot be viewed outside of the US.
    Thanks!

  10. Simon Jester says:

    Comes across as a toothless version of MAD MEN (no smoking, integrated airline staff, etc.). Both HOMELAND and HELL ON WHEELS look better in this timeslot.

  11. Sam says:

    They should call this time slot Planes, Trains, and Claire Danes. I want to watch all three, but I’ll probably end up with the latter two.

  12. Gerald says:

    I’m still curious, so I’ll at least watch the first few episodes. So Matt, let me get this straight…. Christina Ricci, who is really talented, does basically nothing in this? I thought she was the star, how disappointing!.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      That is not what I said. What I said was that in the pilot, Ricci’s Maggie doesn’t have a big noisy storyline a la spy girl Kate, suddenly famous newbie Laura, or woman scorned Colette.

  13. J. Norman says:

    I like Christina Ricci so I will probably give this a look when it debuts.
    I have a bit of a question about how much of the show will involve itself with the actual flights of Pan Am. It would seem a very limiting environment, so I suspect that much of the action will be ground based. . .at least I hope so.
    We will need to overlook some of the (previously discussed) historical inaccuracies.

    1) No smoking on the flights
    (something I may or may not have actually noticed if the subject had not been brought up by politically correct factions)

    2) Minority stewardesses
    For AA stewardesses this would only predate actual hirings by 2-3 years so is not much of an issue. For other minority women, Pan Am waas basically an international airline so that wouldn’t have been an issue.

    3) The age of the stewardesses.
    If I recall, stews were rarely kept in those positions past the age of 30 (at most). If they were married they were re-assigned.

    • Tego Livi says:

      I haven’t done any research on it, but it seems to me likely that the pilots are a tad young. A high-prestige flight like the one in the premiere would probably have older, more experienced pilots (like in their 40s or 50s).

  14. Dhungangha says:

    The uploader who hasn’t made this video available in my country has no idea that i’m gonna torrent the crap out of this show. What a moron!

  15. exBFF says:

    I really hope it makes it. I’ve always like Chrisina Ricci. Hope this is finally the vehicle to really make her a star.

  16. Sheldon W says:

    I pretty much agree with your assessment of the pilot, pre-recasting of Drew [whom I liked just fine as portrayed by Lotan].

    The espionage angle is a bit awkwardly handled and could have been omitted, though the idea of being a part of/adjacent to historical events is kind of inevitible in a show set in the early ’60s.

    I get the feeling that Ricci’s role will grow rapidly once the show is underway – her unexpected promotion in the pilot seems to be setting her up for a lot more than we saw from for in the pilot [which is fine by me].

  17. JodieR says:

    I just can’t get past the fact that Pan Am is so closely tied to the Lockerbie bombing. Every time I hear something about the show, I think about it–especially since the guy responsible is free. I wish they’d just invented a fake airline with the same concept.

  18. Craig says:

    Also thought Lotan was fine. I wonder what makes them recast this role but no one on Man Up

    I thought the spy angle was done very well and adds a nice dimension to the show. Kelli Garner was great in all those scenes

  19. Lucas says:

    When it appeared to be focused on the quirks of working for an airline I was curious, but all this secret spy etc stuff isn’t winning me over

  20. Jim says:

    I predict this show is going to be gone by mid-season if not sooner.

  21. tahina says:

    Wonder if ABC already has a backup show in the works just in case this one does not fly too high on the ratings.

  22. Jay says:

    The Donna was the best thing about neighbours and would watch Margot watch paint dry, this sounds better than that.

  23. Ruby says:

    this sounds really familiar, like a remake of a movie of the 60’s called “Come Fly With Me” starred Delores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Evette ?
    Sometime around ’62 I think.
    Even the espinoge angle was in it too.

  24. Kyle Andrews says:

    I will give it a try and hope that’s it’s fun to watch. That said, the way they’re bending the historical truths of the time to cater to modern political correctness could be troublesome and make it hard to get into the series… To compare, Mad Men’s first scene in the first episode was Don Draper talking to a black waiter about cigarettes while drinking scotch… and the waiter’s boss came over to make sure the waiter wasn’t bothering Don. From that jump, Mad Men had a vibe to it that transported you back.

    If Pan Am is looking to transport people back, I think it will probably fail. If they’re looking to amuse people with this sort of retro world that’s not accurate, they will have a tricky time of it but it could work. They just have to own it right up front, or it will be the elephant in the room during every scene.

  25. Sue says:

    I will watch it based on some promo’s I’ve seen. Interesting era and they have a lot to work with given they can go to a different destination every week if they choose. Not sure about any political stuff especially if they put a political correctness spin on it. Tell it like it really was.

  26. Katie says:

    Thanks for the first look article- I’ve been waiting patiently for this! Glad to see you gave it a good review. I love Christina Ricci and think this show looks like fun!

  27. Sable says:

    I will check it out since it is set in a period I remember fondly and in a time when getting on an airplane was an enjoyable experience. The only competition that interests me would be Sunday Night football. I’ll probably record Hell On Wheels or watch it when it repeats to see if I enjoy it.

  28. SOAPS says:

    I will not be watching any of ABC’s primetime shows due to the cancellations of OLTL and AMC. Once these two soaps leave the air the only ABC show I will be watching will be GH.

  29. gigi wolf says:

    Regardless of what the new series portrays, I remember what I remember. I think it is always a mistake to try to change history for PC’s sake. It ticks people off, and they lose respect for a show, a movie, or a book. I flew for Pan Am for twelve years, starting after the era of the show, and have had a wonderful time this summer writing about my experiences. To illustrate the point about PC, I posted a comment about one of my memories about a certain group of passengers, in a closed forum for former PAA flight attendants. An older woman got angry, and it started a FBook controversy. The whole thing was so ridiculous, but it gave me the impetus to write my truth on my blog. The show will be fun to watch nevertheless, and I’m looking forward to it. gigi wolf, author of the Pan Am Airlines Pages and A Woman’s Guide To Everything on ChezGigi.com

  30. tamara says:

    i think so far Pan am looks hard and glossy my father was a navigator in the 50’s and 60’s and though I was young i still remember the planes, airports etc.Madmen has an ongoing story that has evolved beyond just being a period piece.I think Pan am will end up being like Desperate Housewives in the sky set in the 60’s- a weekly hotbed of silly intrigues moderately amusing at best.I would rather rent the movie version of “Catch me if you Can”it captured the look more effectively than Pan Am has.

  31. Lew says:

    Looks like a wonderful enlightening view of Pan Am and the trials and tribulations of flying for the Premier airline of the World ….as long as the show is void of SMUT, NEAR NEXT TO NUDITY, and LANGUAGE with overtones.

  32. Nora says:

    CSI Miami is weak competition, and Pan Am will appeal to women much more than football does (though I am a female football fan). I think the show can be big even if Desperate Housewives doesn’t do so well.

  33. Kikiheartbebe says:

    It seems like a breath of fresh air…im so fed up with reality shows

  34. r0ckmypants says:

    I got the impression from the pilot that it’s supposed to be slightly idealized, not 100% grounded in fact. Seeing the stars in Laura’s eyes when they arrived in London, the tarmac proposal at the Bay of Pigs… I think it’s more about recreating the overall feeling of adventure and wonder than it is about accurately portraying 1963.

  35. pan am fan says:

    The story of the stewardess spy happens to be a true one. Pan Am has a history that is unmatched by any other airline; was indeed a part of American and world history and was integrated into our culture as a nation–therefore a prime target for terrorists. The Lockerbie incident was a terorist act that finished off the airline which had been struggling–no bailout from our govt. either to help even though Pan Am shuttled soldiers in and out of wars as a free service to our country and performed numerous dangerous humanitarian missions at their own risk-such as the Bay of Pigs incident-for the US. The comment from the woman who felt another fake airline should be used because of Lockerbie is missing the whole point.

    It was the first airline to have jet planes(the Boeing 707) and not propellers, the JFK terminal which is featured so beautifully in the series was the first terminal to accommodate jets whereby passengers did not have to walk outside onto stairs to board but could board planes directly from inside the terminal,could see the nose of the plane pull right up to the windows,thereby exciting the passenger experience. It is an award winning building which still exists as the Delta terminal and which Delta and the Port Authority now want to demolish–which must be stopped!
    I would like to see more substance in the writing and more development of the characters and storylines-I hope this comes soon-and would like to see more serious cockpit/pilot scenes(attracts male viewers too).The possible plots for this show could be mindboggingly endless!!Love the music, clothes, and want to be transported away to Europe and beauty again. Am tired to death of tattoos,”edgy”looks and lack of manners and civility! Pan Am,please take us there!

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