Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ultimate Pan Am TV episode

I don't watch much TV drama (I watched Fringe for a while), but Pan Am isn't just about a bunch of Barbie dolls. The Playboy club died a premature death probably because it's hard to pay attention to a drama when all you can see is legs and "support and separate". It's more like taking the Disney Princess crew and putting them into adult romance situations and life and death situations, seducing spies, talking about unauthorized pictures. They have a couple of good looking Top Gun guys to do the driving, though I am disappointed they didn't do much with Sanjeev, their only crew member of color. Historically older guys were the only guys allowed to be pilots, but what would that do for ratings? They say the Professor on Gilligan's Island also got the job for his dashing youthful looks to balance out the other sorry examples of masculinity that made up the rest of the island.

Instead of the Titanic or Starship Enterprise, their vehicle is the Boeing 707 which revolutionized air travel, and the historic setting is the underappreciated early 1960s before pop was taken over by hippies and the counterculture. My dad worked at Boeing during the 707 727 737 glory days, and I was a little kid growing up in the 1960s. The idea of an action series where the story revolves around the women who do everything while they tell the guys "Yes boys, why don't you fly the plane" is very different from the Star Trek approach where they throw in token women. They spent $50,000 to build a computer graphic Worldport terminal, which is now scheduled for demolition, though if this series flies high enough, people may want to keep this cake-shaped building with a roof big enough for planes to park under before the modern covered jetways. If the themes weren't so grown up, I could see ABC making a bundle with action figures / dolls of the pilots and girls, and a worldport model with 707s and DC-7s. This halloween was angry birds, but there will probably be a lot of stewardesses next year.

Let's see, Maggie dresses in the backseat of a cab "EYES FORWARD!" and plays catch me if you can to get herself from waitress in Tacoma to auditing classes at Berkeley to Pan Am stewardess who slips cuban cigars to Kennedy at the edge of Air Force One.  We got two girls screaming at bugs and snakes in undies, and Laura plays runaway bride, and is nice to a black submariner who gets punched out by guys who prove that the south isn't the only place to find white supremacists. Iceman and Maverick nearly duke it out before nearly splatting the plane doing the crazy crosswind Kai Tak approach, but Dean really is a jedi pilot who can take off in 20% less runway than the book, and has to warn of an impending air disaster to the nympho assistant to Pan Am vp in Rio. Ted pawns his Rolex to return Laura's ring "a man has to have right time to give a girl a ring. Man, did I say that? I'm terrible", but Laura is nice enough to hold an awkward pose so that Ted, who missed the astronaut program by one crash, can see America's first man to go into orbit. Collette confronts her hatred of Nazi occupiers by getting tipsy and singing the entire "Deutchland Uber Alles" (that's German over the entire world) national anthem, the OLD NAZI VERSION, and plays super nice to the wife of the guy she banged only to find out SHE KNEW THE ENTIRE TIME. They fly to hell in Haiti to have a passenger die, and leave him on the runway, they run across the dead bodies of the family they take back to the US. Kate plays the "Spy Who Loved Me" to the next Ricardo "Corinthian Leather" Montalban wearing a 700 franc dress as overexposed as the bunny outfits to get fingerprints, then the FBI drags him out of her apartment in middle of the night screaming "WHO ARE YOU!!!" after telling her romantically "my mind is full of you, you are like a ghost"

This is what a Kai Tak approach looks like in daylight when it's not raining:

Here's the NYmag recap of the "Pan Am Flies To Hell" episode where they have to land in Hait:

With apologies to PHSIMPSON, I loved this comment so much I had to repost it:

An episode that will save the series.

The Clipper Majestic gets into a nasty fix (running out of fuel, engine failure, hijackers in the galley, revolutionaries on the runway…..). Ted’s and Dean’s banter turns to bicker. Maggie’s sassy attitude intimidates the (fuel gauge, turbine, Palestinian terrorist, Mao Mao rebels). Laura shows she can be a rebel too, by posing nude with (a tanker loaded with jet fuel, a spinning turbine, an AK-47, a beard and a cigar). Kate pulls her CIA strings and the passengers all get fake passports and political asylum in Guatemala. Colette’s thick Quebecoise accent confuses the control tower so much that instead of spreading foam on the runway, it’s covered in poutine.

It’s tense on the final approach to the runway in the (exotic, foreign, did I say exotic already?) locale. Dean tells Ted they don’t have enough fuel to make the runway. Ted tells Dean to shut up. He’s in charge of this (sandbox, frat house, car loaded with more clowns than it possibly could hold).

Dean screams “we’re out of fuel!” Engine 1 sputters and dies. Engine 2 sputters and dies. A passenger looks out the window and sees a monster ripping the cowling off the still operating Engine 3. He opens the emergency window, crawls down the wing and wrestles the beast into submission. But Engine 3 still dies. Flashback to a hospital, where Ted has been admitted after busting out of the Navy. From his bed, he bursts into song. “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great, gonna have the whole world on a plate.” Poor guy, thinks he’s Ethel Merman.

Dean screams “we can’t make it on one engine.”

All eyes turn to Sanjeev. With quiet calm, he tells Ted and Dean that while in India, he spent two weeks at an ashram studying (Ashtanga, Jivumukti, just call it anything, nobody watching will know the difference) yoga. In two minutes, he imparts four thousand years of Indian learning to the flight deck crew. The three assume the lotus position (try that in a cockpit seat) and chant “Om…om…om…” The plane breaks out of its freefall, stabilizes, and, as the chanting stops, settles on the runway.

The passengers jump down the exit slide and continue sliding down the poutine’s melted cheese and gravy. Ted stands and the top of the emergency exit, Colette next to him, beaming. She turns to kiss him. He pushes her away. “Not yet, my little cabbage. Let’s get some of these (exotic, foreign, did I say exotic?) potatoes. He leaps down the emergency slide, headfirst, mouth open.

Batman Comic

Aside from the many above mentioned holes in the script/reality, I would also like to point out the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. The glaringly miraculous arrival of airstairs to allow people to easily get on and off the plane at this non-functioning airport....AND their miraculous departure sometime in the few brief moments between Kate getting on the plane, and Dean releasing the brakes at full throttle.

^ But, you know what? Even with all that completely ridiculous implausibility, I still love the show. It's a hoot! And the performances, though melodramatic, aren't bad at all.

I think people just need to accept that Pan Am is not a detailed documentary. It is a lighthearted melodrama with a main goal of showing off some great (and not so great) people, in some great (and not so great) places, and still sending everyone home smiling and feeling a little closer and more connected to their favorite characters. Basically if TV was reading material, Pan Am would be a Batman comic, on a rack full of Wall Street Journals' and National Enquirers'.


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