“One Coin in a Fountain”

Posted on October 24, 2011

As a wise philosopher once said, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the Facts of Life.” So it is with Pan Am. This episode gave us a little bit of both and it’s a bit illustrative of the fact that the creators of this show are taking the “spaghetti/refrigerator” approach of throwing it all with great force, to see which pieces stick, revealing that they don’t really have a firm grasp of the characters, the format, and what to do with it all.

Gosh, that sounded far more damning and serious than we intended. This isn’t trying to be Mad Men and we’re all for keeping the expectations at a certain level here. The goal is more to have fun than to spend too much time dissecting, after all. We have to keep reminding ourselves to think of this more like a glossy Aaron Spelling-style classic; the Love Boat crossed with Charlie’s Angels, in period costumes. But Spelling’s best shows were the ones where he had a rock-solid idea of the concept and the characters. We aren’t really getting that here.

Oh sure, there’s already a formula and it’s simple: every episode involves a flight to a destination, time spent in that destination, and then the return flight home where the repercussions of their trip play out on the flight crew to sometimes vague resolutions, leaving just enough hanging for there to be overarching storylines. And this time around, we even got some movement in certain stories, with Kate getting her most complicated assignment yet and Laura putting a firm close on a chapter of her life while another one (stop us if you’ve heard this before) opens up right in front of her. Also, the captain gets over Bridget with a gold digger.

The Kate stuff we were fine with. We were happy to see her given something to do besides shuttling books and cameras all over the world and the assignment – to get herself invited to a Monte Carlo casino and get the fingerprints of a Russian spy – had just enough of the classic period spy thriller about it to be exciting and fun – with the added bonus of some really gorgeous gowns, to boot. Really, we never could have predicted it, but the spy stuff so far remains the best, most entertaining part of the show. But here’s where we got annoyed, the story was laying some serious groundwork for a potential Maggie vs. Kate showdown, what with the latter making a bold and inexplicable (to anyone who doesn’t know she’s a spy) move on the former’s current flirtation. With the vaguely referenced tension between them over Laura moving in with Maggie, we got the impression that this was going to be adding more fuel to the fire, but one breathless plea from Kate and Maggie almost happily hands the guy over to her. That’s a bit too “network TV” for us. Too “wrapped up.” Why not have a serious falling out between the two characters? You have to add interpersonal drama somewhere in this mix and Christina Ricci’s Maggie remains seriously undefined.

And continuing in that “too network TV for T Lo” vein, we think even the hint of a romance between Laura and Ted is a terrible idea so early in the show. Even if it plays out in that annoying, drawn out, will-they-or-won’t-they manner and nothing happens between them for a long time, it’s still limiting Laura’s character very early on. The only interesting thing about her is that she ran away from the altar. If she’s running into Ted’s arms (even if only in the eyes of the audience), immediately following that character-defining moment, then she’s reduced to the Bad Romance Girl; defined by the men she’s running away from or the men she’s resisting. We suppose it gives Ted something to do, but we remain committed to the idea that people aren’t tuning in because of the flight crew. We would have been happier if everyone flying the plane remain mostly in the background.

Unfortunately, the creators don’t seem to agree because not only did we spend a lot of time with Ted coming to Laura’s rescue, we got Dean getting his freak on with a slightly slutty mistress of a high-ranking Pan Am executive. Whatever. The focus should always be on those four stewardesses. All that time with Ted and Dean left less time for Maggie, who remains maddeningly undefined, and virtually no time for Collette, which is the biggest indicator of all that the creators don’t know what they have and what to do with it. Kate’s spying and Collette doing anything are the two strongest parts of the show. We’re happy that they’re developing Kate nicely – especially now that she’s got a glamorous boyfriend to go along with the glamorous adventures – but they’re not giving the latter anything to do at all. And she STILL steals any scene in which she’s given a line. There’s no reason why all four female characters can’t be given a little something to do in each episode and have their stories – whatever they may be in Collette’s and Maggie’s cases – moved forward slightly each week. Show of hands: Is anyone really all that interested in Dean and his rebound girl? Or Ted and his career/daddy issues?

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