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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
PAN AM (ABC)
(written by Jack Orman; directed by Thomas Schlamme; TRT: 44:45)
The network's description: "Passion, jealousy and espionage... They do it all - and they do it at 30,000 feet. The style of the 1960s, the energy and excitement of the Jet Age and a drama full of sexy entanglements deliciously mesh in this thrilling and highly-original new series. In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world. Not only are these flyboys and girls young and good looking, but to represent Pan Am they also have to be educated, cultured and refined. They're trained to handle everything from in-air emergencies to unwanted advances - all without rumpling their pristine uniforms or mussing their hair. There's Dean (Jonah Lotan) - a cocky, charismatic and ambitious new pilot - the first of a new breed not trained in the war. On the sly against company policy, he's dating Bridget, a stunning beauty with a mysterious past.
A rebellious bohemian, Maggie (Christina Ricci) turns into a buttoned up professional for work so she can see the world. Rounding out the crew are flirtatious Collette (Karine Vanasse), the adventurous Kate (Kelli Garner) and, finally, Laura (Margot Robbie) - Kate's beauty queen younger sister, a runaway bride, who recently fled a life of domestic boredom to take to the skies. "Pan Am" stars Christina Ricci ("Penelope") as Maggie, Kelli Garner ("Going the Distance") as Kate, Karine Vanasse ("Polytechnique") as Colette, Margot Robbie ("Neighbours") as Laura, Jonah Lotan ("24") as Dean and Michael Mosley ("Justified") as Ted. Jack Orman ("ER," "Men of a Certain Age,"), Tommy Schlamme ("The West Wing," "Parenthood," "Mr. Sunshine") and Nancy Hult Ganis ("Akleeh and the Bee") are the executive producers of "Pan Am." Orman is also the writer, with Schlamme directing. "Pan Am" is produced by Jack Orman Productions, Out of the Blue Entertainment and Shoe Money Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television."
What did they leave out? It's set in 1963, coincidentally the same year as NBC's "The Playboy Club."
The plot in a nutshell: Newly promoted captain Dean (Jonah Lotan) is about to pilot the maiden voyage of the Clipper Majestic, Pan Am's newest 707, from New York to London. One small problem: his lead stewardess/girlfriend Bridget (Annabelle Wallis) is nowhere to be found. Said duty then falls to Maggie (Christina Ricci), a glamorous flight attendant by day and hardscrabble bohemian by night. Rounding out their crew is Ted (Michael Mosley), Dean's sardonic first officer; Colette (Karine Vanasse), a French woman not shy about keeping a lover in every port; as well as worldly Kate (Kelli Garner) and her younger sister/relative newbie Laura (Margot Robbie), the latter of whom is something of an overnight celebrity after being featured on the cover of Life. Together they're part of the flagship of the premiere brand of its day.
Flashbacks however tell us our heroines are far from the porcelain dolls they're presumed to be: Laura pulled a "Graduate" on her fiancee, choosing to follow in her rebellious sister's footsteps rather than be a caged housewife; Ted, Dean, Maggie and Bridget helped fly released political prisoners out of Cuba; one of Colette's former conquests is a passenger, now revealed to be married and the father of a young boy; and Kate has garnered the attention of the CIA, who want her to be an asset. And then of course there's the mystery of Bridget - trusted friend of the gals, lover of Dean - who literally seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. Just another day at the office for this crew.
What works: The show itself looks spectacular as various visual effects help recreate a stylized version of 1963. The content itself however...
What doesn't: ...isn't that compelling. Aside from Kate's low key CIA foibles, not much happens in the present day while the flashbacks seem to underline what's already been established rather than flesh out the characters. Ricci's Maggie in particular is surprisingly given little to do beyond smile and look the part of Pan Am stewardess while Vanasse's Colette and Robbie's Laura simply just hem and haw over their current predicaments. Not helping is that our heroines - all doe-eyed, fair-skinned - often look interchangeable, adding an unnecessary layer of "wait was that the one who" to the proceedings.
It all ultimately feels rather milquetoast, especially in the context of these are supposed to be a new breed of women who do things for themselves instead of in the quest to land a husband. (In a sign of the soon-to-change times, company policy goes so far to say the girls can no longer fly when the get married or turn 32.) That's not to say one expects a plane full of trailblazers, it's just there's an absense of momentum to the aforementioned events. Even the proposed ongoing thread of the show - what happened to Bridget? - is more polite sabre rattling than juicy mystery. At the end of the day, one assumes "Pan Am" will be tagged as "Mad Men Light" come this fall.
The bottom line: They'll at least have the "light" part correct.