This post is probably futile as Pan Am is almost sure to soon be cancelled, or at least not renewed for a second season; but I just need to profess my love for Pan Am before it really is too late. There was even an incident where one of the show’s stars, Karine Vanasse, mysteriously tweeted that they had gotten “THE call” from ABC, and implied it had been cancelled; only to have ABC make a statement that the show was definitely not cancelled and they were still weighing their options for a full season and for a renewal, and Vanasse retracted her tweet. However, in the last few weeks ratings have plummeted to less than 4 million per night, making it just a matter of time before ABC pulls the plug.
I, for one, was super excited about this new fall show. With all the publicity and hype, I fully expected it to be one of the season’s biggest hits. I love the 60s, I love flying, I love flying in the 60s (Catch Me If You Can is one of my faves), I love espionage, I love sassy 60s female characters sticking it to the literal man, it basically had it all for me. I’ve seen every episode and loved each one, but apparently America didn’t feel the same way and ratings kept dropping each week.
So what went wrong?
You certainly can’t say the show isn’t beautiful to watch—all the sets and costumes (and actresses) are gorgeous. Part of the show’s demise may be the fact that to maintain the high production cost, the show’s numbers had to be astronomical to make a profit—numbers it has failed to maintain.
The show often employs multiple flashbacks throughout an episode, similar to those in How I Met Your Mother. However, HIMYM is a master at these flashbacks, and Pan Am‘s often make it hard to follow and hard to know which timeline is the current timeline. They definitely have some kinks to work out there, but I think that’s something the writers could’ve corrected if given a little more time. I’d say the show’s biggest downfall is in its writing—sometimes there are plot jumps or plot holes, and sometimes the characters’ personality traits don’t hold up well from week to week.
The show’s time slot also isn’t doing it a lot of favors. It leans more to the wholesome, family-show end of the spectrum, so I think the 10:00 time slot has knocked out a lot of viewers that may have watched it at an earlier slot. Personally, I think it’d go great as a 9:00 follow-up to Once Upon a Time; much more so than as a follow-up to Desperate Housewives.
Why I love this show is because it’s fun, it’s light, I love the characters, and it has just enough drama to leave mini-cliffhangers each week. Maybe people came in thinking this was going to be a pure copy of Mad Men, and changed the channel when they realized it was lighter fare than what we see in the dark, complex relationships shown in Mad Men. Where Mad Men emphasizes the plight of the 60s woman fighting her way through the boys club, Pan Am focuses on the joys and independence the modern 60s woman can attain when she succeeds.
And that’s not to say Pan Am is a strictly female-centric show. Pan Am also looks at the societal change in men’s roles—it’s been 20 years since WWII and you see the shift where men in the armed forces aren’t seen as the automatic heros anymore, which makes for a major plot point between the two main male characters (Ted Vanderway and Dean Lowrey; played by Michael Mosley and Mike Vogel, respectively). Times are changing for everyone.
The show also takes us to a new, exotic setting each week as the New York-based Pan Am crew jet sets around the world, making for fun plot points and new adventures. Tied into this is the fact that one of the Pan Am stewardesses, Kate Cameron (played by Kelli Garner), is secretly working for the CIA and carries out mini-missions each episode (using Pan Am stewardesses as CIA spies was apparently a real-life phenomenon in the 60s).
To heighten the international tension of the 60s being post-WWII and in the midst of a cold war with the Soviet Union, one of the four core stewardess characters is a precious, precious French character named Colette Valois, played by the adorable afore-mentioned Karine Vanasse (and who always has flawless eyeliner). Her backstory of growing up in Nazi-occupied France is heartbreaking, and you can’t not love her. Add her to Kate the CIA agent; Maggie (Christina Ricci) the feminist rebel with a political cause; and Kate’s sister, Laura (Margot Robbie), the runaway bride in search of a modern girl’s independence; and you’ve got quite the cast of wonderful, fun, intelligent women leading us into the modern age.
I hope that there are some fellow Pan Am fliers out there, that maybe I’ve convinced some of you to fly Pan Am for the first time, and that you are not off-put by all of my flying metaphors.
Watch new episodes of Pan Am on Sundays on ABC at 10/9c. The next episode airs on Feb. 12 and is a new episode entitled “Romance Languages.”