There's probably never been a more appropriate title than "Pilot" for the first episode of a television series.
High hopes for Pan Am were moderately met. As a jet age drama set in the 1960s, Pan Am of course has to be compared to Mad Men and from a writing and acting standpoint, it's not in the same stratosphere. The script was both a little soft and overly busy, introducing a plethora of characters with varying degrees of success and interest.
As an exercise in style, Pan Am is very successful. It's a beautiful looking show. Maybe too beautiful; the sparkling luxury of the Pan Am planes is one thing, but the CGI-enhanced recreations of 1963 New York and London were maybe too clean and perfect. I get Pan Am is a romantic fantasy of sorts, but it's also a historical-based drama. Point is, NYC and London are dirty cities, not pristine as post cards.
ABC (owned by Disney) won't let anyone on Pan Am smoke, but the absence of cigarettes wasn't distracting.
It's no secret I know Mike Vogel, the captain of Pan Am, and I thought he came off very well, though his role was a little lean. He did a great job with what he had to do, but the script was so busy leaping from character to character and subplot to subplot, everyone got a bit of a short shrift.
I liked the sisters, especially the abandoning the wedding and running off to become Pan Am stewardess scene. I thought maybe the younger sister on the cover of Life Magazine would be the eyes through with the audience would experience the world of 1963 Pan Am, but nope, they didn't play that card so much.
I liked the spy stuff the most with Kelli Garner, who I thought shined brightest on the show. The spy storylines should carry the intrigue of the series pretty far, since there's only so much you can do with stories of airplanes taking off, experiencing a little turbulence, and landing safely.
I thought the least successful subplot was the French stewardess and the "surprising" confrontation with the wife of the married man she slept with. Who didn't see that coming?
What I couldn't figure out is why Christina Ricci was there? Obviously she's the biggest name on the show and she had to be in the pilot, but she had nothing to do in the episode. Her only piece of business was to get called into the flight, dash from her apartment to the Pan Am building, and helicopter to the plane. But once she was on board, she had nothing to do. Why was it so important her character be on the flight?
The flashback in Cuba, while both interesting as a historical bit and for Mike Vogel's romance subplot, was also really shoehorned in. Co-Pilot: "Hey, remember the time we flew into Cuba to get those exiles during the Bay of Pigs?"
Overall, the series has great potential and I thought the various threads came together nicely in the end. Like any successful flight, Pan Am stuck the landing, and that's probably the most important thing.
NewsRadio will always be in my personal top 10 of all time favorite shows. I am sure seeing it again on DVD will bump it into the top 5. I thought the Phil hartman years were some of the best TV for a sitcom ever.