Of the networks' new shows trying to capture the nostalgia of the 1960's, Pan Am blows The Playboy Club out of the water. Where the latter tries to convince us that its female characters are ahead of their time via an overwritten voiceover, Pan Am shows us this by offering smart and savvy leading ladies that have personalities underneath their sparkling smiles.
The show begins with the maiden voyage of the new Clipper Majestic and her first-time captain, Dean (Mike Vogel). Filling out the Majestic's crew is flirtatious co-pilot Ted (Michael Mosley), head stewardess Maggie (Christina Ricci) and the remaining stewardesses Laura (Margot Robbie), Kate (Kelli Garner) and Colette (Karine Vanasse). While the main story involves the new plane's first flight, flashbacks help us get to know the flight crew (though, sadly, Ted and Maggie are left out, hopefully to come later). Dean is concerned about the absence of his girlfriend and the flight's intended head stewardess, Bridget (Annabelle Wallis). Colette finds a man she had been having an affair with on the flight with a wife and son she didn't know he had. Runaway bride and rookie Laura has recently been branded the face of Pan Am, courtesy of Life magazine. Meanwhile, her sister Kate is attempting to carry out a mission given to her by an American intelligence agent. It's a lot to cram into an hour, but somehow they manage.
Director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing) does a masterful job with a very complicated pilot episode. The introductions of the main cast of characters bounce between the current timeline and flashbacks in what could have been a narrative mess but actually manages to work quite nicely. What's more, everything looks absolutely beautiful. The show exists very naturally in its period setting, without beating the audience over the head with nostalgia. Garner definitely gets the most interesting stuff to do in the pilot and she handles it very well, but the other ladies manage to make their moments memorable, too. Pan Am sets up a lush world full of interesting people that seeks to add something new to the growing television genre of period dramas.