When I first saw a promotional photo for ABC’s “Pan Am” this past summer, I had no idea what the show was about. All I knew was that it featured curvy women in fashionable 60s attire. Apparently, that’s enough to draw me in.
I didn’t actually start watching until fall break, when all of the other shows I watch were on hiatus and I needed a break from my procrastination. There were only five episodes out at the time, and I watched them all in one day. Ever since then, I have been pretty hyped about the show, but have yet to find a fellow fan on campus. Therefore my gushing falls to you, dear reader.
The plot centers on a Pan American International flight crew in the year 1963. The heart and soul of this cast are the four stewardesses: Maggie Ryan, a street smart beatnik who overcame an underprivileged background to obtain this job, Collette Valois, a poised young French woman with a dark past, Kate Cameron, an outspoken undercover CIA agent, and Laura Cameron, Kate’s younger and very beautiful sister who has only just recently escaped their overbearing mother. The crew is rounded out by Dean Lowry, the heartsick and dashing pilot who seems to attract women wherever he goes, and his First Officer Ted Vanderway, a generally well-intentioned misogynist.
It’s probably pretty obvious that this show doesn’t shy away from somewhat outlandish story arcs—it’s like “Mad Men,” except fluffier. It seems less of an accurate depiction of the 60s than a view of the decade at its most ideal, a rosy look at the former glamor of a career that has now become rather mundane.
Each episode takes place in at least one exotic location (the destinations of the Pan Am flights), where somehow the girls always have time to shop, dance, flirt, witness historic events or evade communist spies. I’ll admit that it’s more than a little far-fetched that one of these stewardesses is an increasingly important operative for the CIA, not to mention the fact that within this five episode span Laura has already landed herself on the cover of “Life” magazine.
“Pan Am” is fun and it’s pretty, and I am perfectly willing to admit that I may only be interested in the show because it is full of beautiful people and beautiful clothes. But beyond that, I will say that I think there is definitely something interesting going on in terms of the portrayal of women in the show. They may be pretty and thin, but they also represent a faction of women who are resisting the roles society has in mind for them, instead choosing to pursue their own interests and dreams. And as rosy as their surroundings are, the situations the stewardesses find themselves in aren’t always traditional. In the first episode, we learn that Collette has been the “other woman,” albeit unknowingly, when a one-night stand with a passenger has dangerous consequences. Maggie stabs a handsy passenger with a kitchen utensil and refuses to hold Ted accountable for paying the man off instead of standing up for her. Laura leaves her fiancé at the altar, determined to make more of her life than what her role as a housewife could bring.
Yes, “Pan Am” is sprightly, fun, and colorful, but it also fundamentally represents women in an exciting and centralized way—the episodes aren’t about these women’s love lives, they’re about their liberated lives. I could use more of that on TV, especially if these ladies are going to look so good doing it.