We Recommend: Pan Am

And the emergency exits are here, here and here…

As soon as Mad Men became something of a phenomenon, it was always likely to inspire other takes on modern period drama. And Pan Am is definitely one such show. Set in 1963 when airline travel was a great luxury, and when Pan-American World Airways was one of the biggest names in the business. But, as I found when watching The Hour, there’s plenty of room for interesting takes on our not-so-distant past.

Pan Am focuses on the lives of a group of stewardesses and flight crew, and we watch them literally fly around the world making sense of the world as it stood in 1963. The flight crew is led by Mike Vogel who plays Dean – a new pilot who has managed to get catapulted to a prestigious pilot seat earlier than anyone else has. His co-pilot, Ted (Michael Mosley), conversely comes from wealth and a military flight background and harbours deep feelings behind his brash and flirtatious exterior. These are the two main male leads, as the show is really about the stewardesses of Pan-American World Airways!

The stewardess team is Maggie (Christina Ricci) a Bohemian wild child, who has struggled to get to where she is in the world and isn’t going to let anything take it away from her. She has a natural exuberance and a scrappy nature, eager to take on bureaucracy and tackle anything she views as unfair. Colette (Karinne Vanasse) is a flirty French stewardess who harbours emotional scars from the death of her parents during World War II and is wiser than her years, despite having a penchant for unavailable men. Rounding off the group are Laura (Margot Robbie) and Kate (Kelly Garner), sisters who both work at Pan-American. Laura runs away from her suburban beauty queen life to follow her rebellious sister travelling the world. Little does she, or any of the crew, suspect what Kate’s really involved in.

While it may not sound like a deep show, it does a good job of presenting a world where women were beginning to get a taste of more equality. Although in the workplace they’re still wearing corsets and being weighed to make sure they conform to standards of ‘beauty’ for the airline – these are women who have political opinions and aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. And the ability to show countries around the world leads to a particularly poignant moment in Berlin for Colette, returning for the first time since the Second World War and forced to confront demons while flying the press corps over for the President’s famous ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ speech. It’s touches like this that make the show a success for me, intertwining historical details with strong character development and a talented, likeable cast.

You can keep up-to-date with the schedule for Pan Am here. It starts on BBC2 at 9pm on 16th November, though from my reading of the site, the next two episodes appear to be scheduled for Saturday 19th November from 9:45pm.

Rebecca Brodeur

Updated: Nov 16, 2011

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We Recommend: Pan Am | The Digital Fix