Truth or Dare

Posted on November 07, 2011

This is one of those reviews we almost feel bad writing because it’s going to sound more negative than we actually felt after watching this episode, which was mostly enjoyable fluff.

But the operative phrase here is “enjoyable fluff,” because while the show maintains its glossy veneer, it’s attempting far more nuanced storytelling than it might be capable of. With its CGI backdrops of exciting international locations and only vaguely accurate period art direction, we’re not sure a show like Pan Am is equipped to tell stories of race relations in the Kennedy era or deal with lovers being torn apart by the Cold War. There was an odd disconnect going from the almost Happy Days-like scene of the party at Maggie’s place to a race-based assault and CIA kidnapping.

But we can’t say it was a bad episode, really. We’d just about given up on this show, but there was some real meat to the stories and some fairly decent character-building going on with Kate and Laura. It’s always a turning point for a heroic character to pay some sort of price and Kate got hers with the removal of Niko from her life. She can go anywhere from here, dramatically speaking, and that’s a good thing. But we’re fairly certain that, after some initial pouting and resistance, she’ll throw herself headfirst back into the spy game, hardened by it and more committed to it than ever. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking on our parts. Let’s just say that Kate has the most story potential to her character right now and we hope these opportunities aren’t wasted by the writers.

Laura got some intriguing turns this week as well. To Kate’s disapproval, Laura is finding out who she is by pushing against the boundaries of what she’s allowed to do, which leads to surprising acts like posing for nude pictures or allowing herself to confront her own racism. We thought the latter aspect of her story was mostly Very Special Episode material; the only thing saving it from being completely by-the-numbers was its New York City setting. Portrayals of the racism of the era is too often confined to the south. But in the end, it was a fairly typical “white person confronts racism” story. She’ll make out with a black guy to show how much she’s grown but we doubt a new focus on fighting for African-American civil rights will suddenly define her character. No, the race storyline would appear to be, sadly, of a piece with the nude pictures reveal; a way to show that Laura is rejecting her middle class background and searching for herself. We suppose we shouldn’t expect a period show to not touch on the major issues of the day, but this kind of treatment of the race issue of the period is almost laughably shallow.

Still, we think the idea of defining Laura in this direction has merit. It’s interesting to see a character go in a direction you wouldn’t expect and the fact that Laura’s new social openness has Kate, the CIA operative, feeling moralistic and judgmental is a great way to go with these characters.

Unfortunately, we’re not looking for the Kate and Laura show here, and we doubt most of the audience is either. Once again, Christina Ricci is a very well-lit extra and Collette got a little something to do, but we really hope it doesn’t lead to a “Karen Black flying the plane” moment down the line because that would be just too ridiculous for words. We’re figuring it’s just a way to further her budding romance with the unbelievably bland Dean, to which we say, “Girl, no.” We have to admit, it’s a bit distressing that so many of the women’s storylines are revolving around the men they’re attracted to. We knew the show was going to be glossy and soapy, but the best soap opera characters have more than just who they’re hot for going on. It’s great that Laura and Kate are so well-defined, but Maggie and Collette better be in the batter’s circle for the same treatment and it better not revolve solely around whichever bland men are making them bat their eyes.


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  • Anonymous

    Christina Ricci is an actress I like very much. I always pay attention when she’s in a cast list; so, it says something about this show that I’ve completely lost interest in her character. It’s not Ricci; it’s the way her character is written & used. What a waste.

    Collette is my favorite character, but what on earth are they doing with her? Dean looks odd (not the actor himself, the way they’ve styled him) and is a complete snore. Give Collette her own Goran Visnjic!

  • Sobaika Mirza

    The only things that keeps me watching this show is that I leave my TV on ABC after Once Upon a Time and that TLo recaps it. What a pile of wasted potential. Those sisters (and all of the men) just aren’t very compelling. I don’t understand why they’re the focus when Ricci and the lady who plays Colette are loaded with screen presence and talent.

  • yuju ti

    I decided to skip this show last night. After reading your recap, I am glad I made a right decision. 

  • My heart always sinks when I finish watching The Good Wife and this is my next best choice after that. It’s not terrible, but it’s just so surface and plastic and the characters are so unreal. It’s not the acting. It’s the writing. 

    • Anonymous

      You got that right. The writing is bland…must be done by committee. Nothing of interest going on during this show.

  • scottyf

    I was reading an article the other day that discussed new shows that were in danger of being cancelled–of which Pan Am is one. I will admit to a certain level of relief and hope. Maybe the viewing public is finally getting tired of one-dimensional shows. Maybe producers are painfully unaware of their demographic.

    Every show that I watch doesn’t have to contain a main character who is a person of color. Black people only make up about 14% of the population. What I care about more than anything is a compelling story with compelling characters. But if you ARE going to use people of color, I am sick to the point of extreme anger when the use is of a trite and secondary nature. I’ve heard comments here about a Middle Eastern co-pilot who sounds almost as under-utilized as Christina Ricci (however I’m sure he’s getting WAY less money).

    To be fair, I have not watched even a second of the show. I monitor it through the Soul Brother’s recaps, and the views of the commentariat. It may be a fabulous show full of interesting stories and compelling performances. I’ll never find out. I refuse to give ANY more of my time on this planet to what sounds like an antiquated, racist and sexist view of the world; written, directed and produced by people who I would expect to be at least as progressive as it sounds like their dwindling audience is.

    • Sobaika Mirza

      He’s Indian, not Middle-Eastern. But yeah, I’ve complained a lot of his treatment on the show. What’s depressing is that he has so much potential – as soon as I saw Sanjiv I was thinking “How did he get here? I wonder what they’ll do with him. Where there many foreigners employed by Pan Am at the time? How will the pilots treat him?” and they’ve done zero with him. 

      This show clearly doesn’t know what it has on its hands, with characters like Sanjiv, Maggie, and especially Colette. They could be interesting, the writing just refuses to allow it.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with Sobaika that the show is under-utilizing the most interesting characters they have. I do think that Kate’s storyline could go in more exciting directions, but I want to know more about Colette (especially after her exposure in Berlin)…surely, that can’t be all there is to her, a bitter child of wartorn Europe. And Sanjiv. If they’re going to go to the trouble of casting a South Asian character for a show set in the early 1960s, dammit, I wanna know his story!  As I said a couple of weeks ago, Dean should get fired for his tryst with his boss’s mistress so we can be rid of him forever. Talk about a one-dimensional character. What happened to his pining love for Bridget? Give me a break.

      • Sobaika Mirza

        The worst part is, the more they ignore Sanjiv, the more it looks like they cast him just to fulfill some quota. “Look! We got a brown guy. That means we’re done addressing people of color day-to-day, right?”

        • scottyf

          “No…wait…we’ve now got TWO brown guys!!!! And we let one KISS A WHITE GIRL!!!!

          We’re frickin’ PIONEERS in progressive television!  

          Where’s that damn Emmy nominating committee?”

          • Leslie Streeter

            “I kissed a white girl and I liked…No, suh. That’s not what I said at all! I said ‘I clubbed a white squirrel!’ And I ate it! We southern Negroes are odd that way….”

        • Anonymous

          I agree.

          BTW, Kal Parekh has a FB fan page:

    • BuffaloBarbara

      I wouldn’t say the use of Sanjiv is trite so much as non-existent.  I’d love to see more of him.  But, on the plus side, he’s just a navigator guy who doesn’t have much to do–he’s not running around chanting “Hare Krishna” and speaking in a heavy Hindi accent and being the Wise South Asian.  There’s no stereotyping happening (so far), though that may be because he’s never, as far I know, been at the center of a shot or had more than a couple of lines during an episode.

      As for this episode’s guest star (I can’t remember the character’s name, because I’m terrible at names), he was actually pretty decently characterized.  He was there to represent the whole issue of racism in the era, and you get a little of it, but it was mostly focused on how he and Laura both had rather domineering mothers, and both wanted to get out and see the world.  He has a good hangover cure, bought a little crystal figurine, and was embarrassed that she wanted to go see a movie called “The Yum Yum Tree.”  In other words, as full a characterization as you’d expect of a guest star in a frothy show.

      • scottyf

        “I wouldn’t say the use of Sanjiv is trite so much as non-existent.”
        From my perspective, that’s trite.

        Again, I haven’t seen the episode so I feel a little silly commenting on it. But it’s been my experience that when you have a non-white on a predominately white show, and you DON’T address race in a meaningful way–it still remains the elephant in the room. And I feel it is condescending to me as a viewer of color if consciously or unconsciously a writer/producer/director expects me to be mollified simply by having a non-European somewhere on the screen.

        • BuffaloBarbara

          I guess I would draw the distinction between “completely underused” and “used badly” in this case.  If they were keeping him completely underused while having all of the other characters talking about how, “Wow, we’ve got an Indian navigator!  Aren’t we great?”, I’d go with “trite.”  As the situation is, it could just as easily have been that the casting director put on a blindfold, reached into a pile of resumes, and happened to pick an Indian actor for a part that happened to be essentially a weekly walk-on.  If they get around to giving him an episode of his own, and then use him stereotypically and without any identity other than “the Indian guy,” then I’ll go along with “trite.”

          • scottyf

            I don’t know if you’re in the business, but the day a casting director does what you’re suggesting is a day I would truly live for. Commercial casting is always about “type.” Some producer somewhere said “We need a person of color to keep the FCC and the Unions off of our backs.”

            From my perspective, racism is not simply about stereotyping.  Having a black person in a scene where they don’t say “Right On, Brother!” doesn’t mean that the casting wasn’t racist. Having a person of color present on a consistent basis, yet giving her/him no character or point of view is a more insidious form of racism that is interwoven into our society and simply reflected in seemingly frothy television shows.

          • BuffaloBarbara

            Oh, it’s definitely not likely what happened, just, in terms of the character, might as well be.  The character doesn’t seem to call for any “type” at all so far.  I wouldn’t be shocked in the least to learn that in early drafts, his name was “Steve” and it changed after casting.

            The thing is, we’re about eight episodes in, and most of the characters haven’t had a real spotlight yet.  Which is, in itself, a problem, but given that, I’m not sure it’s anything insidious that this particular character hasn’t had the camera pointed at him for long.

          • scottyf

            We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

            All I know is that I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars in therapy, and countless hours of self-doubt to comfortably be able to define racism for myself. For me, this show reeks of it.

          • BuffaloBarbara

            I guess I’m just hesitant to lob an r-bomb at someone when there are other feasible explanations.  In something like PA, there aren’t.  There’s no way that Cotrice and Kelly had the worst entries of their weeks.  But here?  I can think of half a dozen other scenarios, from blind resume picking to someone-knows-someone-who-who’s-looking-for-a-job… can’t we give him that navigator part?  Without any other evidence (since the character hasn’t been developed to actually give evidence), I can’t venture a guess on what racial motivations they might or might not have.

          • MilaXX

            Do you read Toure? I follow him on twitter and he has a book out I’m thinking of buying.

          • Sobaika Mirza

            As far as I know, the only show with ‘color-blind’ casting is Grey’s Anatomy.

          • scottyf

            Created by a Woman of Color.

          • scottyf

            “If they get around to giving him an episode of his own, and then use him stereotypically and without any identity other than “the Indian guy,” then I’ll go along with “trite.”

            I would proffer that being the only person of Indian descent, and having no other discerning character traits other than his name–he already IS “the Indian guy.”

          • BuffaloBarbara

            Well, he’s not so much “the Indian guy” in the show as “the navigator.”

          • Scottyf, I agree with BuffaloBarbara that he just happens to be Indian. The writing is not all that subtle. If this show wants to make a point, it will hit you over the head with it. I think you need to see the show before you form opinions about it.

            By the way, I love reading your posts and am always entertained and informed by them. 

  • vmcdanie

    I wanted this to work because I really like Christina Ricci and let’s face it, her career in the 2000’s has been…well, she hasn’t really had one. It just doesn’t sound compelling and your recap is making me think I made the right decision.

    I still have the first two Grimm’s sitting on my DVR. I’m curious about that. I’ve pretty much given up on 2 Broke Girls. I flove The New Girl and Up All Night has grown on me.

  • Anonymous

    So, admittedly this is a stereotype, but when I hear Beatnik the two images that come to mind are 1. Pia Zador and Ric Ocasik from Hairspray and 2. Flanders’ parents from the Simpsons.  Perky, handbag carrying, pump wearing Christina Ricci is NOT that.  She hasn’t even smoked reefer and ironed her hair yet!  Could have been such an interesting character, but waitress Don Draper isn’t working for me.  It’s such a disappointment because it could be such a cool story.

    Also, I don’t think that Cold War Kate can be all that bright if she really didn’t see that coming. 

    • Anonymous

      I LOVE Pia and Ric in Hairspray. Where is beatnik Maggie?

  • Anonymous

    This was my era.  I was a college student 1963-1967.  I flew PanAm on my first trip to Europe ($200 round-trip to Heathrow). The show is ridiculous; unrealistic, writing is sophomoric, plots far-fetched, and yet I still watch.  I’m pretty sure the flight attendants did not wear either their hats or jackets while serving in the cabin.  They had pinnies (aprons) they wore over their white blouses and spent a lot of time preparing meals and handing out magazines or earphones for in-flight movies.  Yes, cabin crew were CIA couriers; that’s a fact but why on earth would the CIA allow an untrained stewardess to participate in full-blown espionage of turning a “Communist” diplomat.  Really?  Absurd.  Maybe they’d take a trained agent and put her through stewardess school AND then on an international flight.  Though it’s nice to see Goran Visjnic back on American tv.  Yes, spy drama was very big during the Kennedy era.  James Bond, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Harry Palmer (Michael Caine), et. al. but to extend this pop culture prediliction of the era into a notion that woman of my era were eager spies is silly.  Women of my era were still saying they went to college to earn their “MRS.”  Only a handful of women were just beginning to realize that there was more to life than teacher, nurse, secretary or if you were really pretty — stewardess.  Pan Am flight attendants were not hotbeds of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    And yet again I missed it. Kind of telling that I keep forgetting to watch this on Sunday evenings even while I make sure everything stops for Psych on Wednesday. Maybe I’ll watch it online, but if they’re going to make it the Kate and Laura show, I’m not interested. I want more Colette.

  • Judy_J

    I decided to quit judging this show based on its historical accuracy and just watch for fun.  It’s still not as much fun as I’d like, but I hope that the writers can step up their game and keep the storyline entertaining.  I’d like to see more of Collette and Maggie.  The sisters are beginning to get on my nerves.

  • BuffaloBarbara

    I liked the young man Laura fell for here–he was defined as a character and not “the black guy,” which is often, unfortunately, an elusive concept to some writers. Though I’m not sure pulling away from a kiss from a drunk guy you just met is really racism so much as, well… how likely would she be to take  kiss from a drunk white guy in the same situation?  It’s just not smart to take kisses from drunk people you don’t know very well, no matter what color they are.

    And did anyone else go to a bad Buffy place with the dialogue “What are you doing?”/”Making a command decision”? Replace “command decision” with “choice,” and that’s the exact dialogue of the Parker sex scene in season four, which was run during the “previously”s for most of the first half of the season.  Just me, then?  Okay.

    I could see Colette’s storyline developing into a learning-to-fly business, then interacting with the gender politics of the era.

    Speaking of which, I enjoyed Kate ending up getting the sailor to put on her uniform if he wanted to do a strip tease.

    • Sobaika Mirza

      No, not just you. It reminded me of the Buffy scene too!

      • BuffaloBarbara

        Well, maybe that will be the next twist.  While Kate goes into full James Bond mode, Laura starts dusting vamps during stopovers.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry Pan-Am, but you strike me too much as a combination of an afterschool special and “The SIxties – For Dummies”.  Everything is presented in the most simplistic terms and is wrapped up in a nice tidy bow.

    I read the other day that they got a new showrunner.  So the show may have a chance yet.

  • Anonymous

    OMG! I was hoping Niko would be around longer. He has the sex appeal missing in those bland pilots. Are they ever going to give the navigator anything to do? The black guy was also incredibly hot. Damm. He is gone too. The other sailors all looked like they belonged in the road show company of South Pacific.

    All I could think about during the entire episode was, ” What the hell did they do to Maggie’s hair?” What a mess. Pan Am would never let her fly looking like that.

    • Catch the sailor in reruns of Friday Night Lights. I would love if they made him a regular: he’s so cute and has charisma.

  • Anonymous

    Hey TLO? Guys? Um, just to let you know: The Family Research Council has ads on your site. I know you don’t do anything political with your blog, and I respect that. But…you know what they say about us, right? I know you probably have little control over some of your ads, but this is an above-the-header ad, a big one. “Why is your family photo considered ‘discrimination’?” it reads. Anyway. Just thought you should be made aware. Cheers – Zac in San Diego.

    • MilaXX

      I think some of the ads rotate depending on the cookies on your own PC. I never have the same ads that some of the posters comment on and I definitely don’t have the ad for The Family Research Council.

      • Anonymous

        ah, you’re probably right. stupid cookies. 😉

  • I’ll keep it on the DVR lineup but I’m not thrilled about this show.  It certainly does not give me a “Mad Men” fix.  That ending with Niko and Kate was so unbelievably unbelievable! 

    I understand TLo’s not wanting the show to revolve around the women trying to bag a man but back then, wasn’t that a huge pare of what a woman wanted?  They wanted to snag a man and have it all…  Plus, women’s sexuality was blossoming.  “The Pill” was around by then.  Lets not re-write history because it makes a boring “Pan Am”.  But let the relationships be in the background.  For instance, you know Maggie is fucking her brains out but only hear about it after or see her trot off with her boytoy after a shift.

    Give the women AND men lives outside of PanAm and show us how those lives intersect or oppose working for PanAm…. 

  • MilaXX

    This is just Love Boat on Pan AM for me. I like th show, but it gets DVR’d and watch the next day over lunch. Since it is such a lightweight show I don;t expect them to handle race relations during that time period any differently than they did, and I’m not offended by it. I do wish Maggie and especially Colette had bigger storylines and I still don’t care about the pilots, but as a light, fluffy show Pan AM works for me.

  • I stopped watching a few weeks ago when tivo forgot to record it. I took my lack of caring as a sign. But I am still reading your recaps, which must mean something…

  • L.

    Like PR, this is now a show that I just read about on TLo.  

  • Anonymous

    I generally miss this the first time around (watching the German Commissario Brunetti series instead), and watch it on On Demand.  

    I have one thing to say:  they need more Colette.

  • Anonymous

    Hated the silly “I’ve always dreamed of flying a plane” schtick with Collette. Please throw Dean off the plane. Or at least get him a haircut. Yeesh.

    It was almost laughable that a show that’s overstuffed with sugary fluff, bad writing and shallow characters would even attempt to tackle the race issue. 

  • What drives me crazy about this show is that it could be so good, if it stuck to the real life stories of the first generation of Pan Am flight attendants– women who did really buck against conventions of their time to do something different than the previous generation. The fabricated story lines are so over-the-top fake and eventually just seem to belittle the courage and conviction of the real women who took to the skies. I find myself rooting for no one and believing nothing. I’d rather see more of the real struggles that I am guessing the women who lived this life felt. THAT would be good TV.

  • Maggie becomes less and less the Village girl they wanted to sell. Ex-waitress ex-trailer girl in some God forsaken town? A spoon of dirt from each new location? Please. It’s time for more Collette, by all means. Let’s hope they don’t do the same to her character.