Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Preview II: Pan Am and Playboy Club

My Latest Article at Examiner.com: The Expanding Dumping Ground of Films

Two Shows which Often Get Reviewed Together:

Playboy Club:A lot of the special interest groups you might expect protested this ill-fated show and as strange as it may sound, I put myself in that category to an extent. I find any celebration of Hugh Heffner as a creative genius to be misplaced and tasteless. Heffner was a guy (even though he's not yet dead, I feel he's best discussed in the past tense) who lived out his sexual fetishes because he's rich and because (for a variety of reasons unknown to me because I'm not inclined to research it) he was able to get away with it. I don't think there is anything notable in that. There are a lot of guys who'd live Hugh's decadent lifestyle if they had the money and could get away with it too.

In short, it's hard to be invested in a series based on the debate over whether the Playboy Club was good or bad for society, when you just don't care either way.

So if you strip all that way, this is essentially a workplace drama (albeit a very odd workplace) and a period piece set in the '60s and not too bad of one at that.

With the exception of the male lead, who is so obviously trying to emulate Jon Hamm's stoic blankness, the characters were fairly interesting. Amber Head as the novice bunny Maureen is pretty decent casting and through her, one can see this show as a fairly gripping girl-trying-to-make-it on her own story. Laura Benanti, the playboy bunny with the most seniority, is a formidable foil to Maureen, but she's a little broadly drawn. Why does she care if the playboy bunnies hook up with her clients? If she has such an accute business sense, why does she want to be head bunny and sing up on stage, rather than remain behind the scenes or just start her own nightclub?

The sexual tension and relationship dynamics between the characters are surpriginsly interesting to me, since sex is present everywhere and in everything and I assume the guys have such easy access to it here. How do you define a menaingful sexual interaction or even a meaningful flirtation when it's already a paid commodity and accessible?

The pilot and the next couple episodes wisely focused on something that had nothing to do with the Playboy Club (since that doesn't interest me): Maureen accidentally murdered a mob boss and she has to cover it up.

Pan Am:
No matter how many times I've been on a plane, the experience of flying still remains glamorous for me and that even includes waiting in the terminal and going through security.

With that in mind, it's hard to dislike this show and I suspect a lot of people will latch on to that sense of glamour. Despite using an actual plane, the production values don't strike me as particularly amazing. It might be just me but the score seems too Hallmarkish, the plane's a little too well-lit, Berlin looked like it was shot in Toronto.

If the show is anything like the first and third episode I saw, then the show's format is as follows: The first act is the flight's outbound flight from JFK, the second act is the flight back to JFK, the third through fifth acts (the meat of the plot) consist of flashbacks to what the girls were up to on their layover, and the finale is the plot resolving back on the plane as they're landing at JFK.

Christina Ricci, the biggest name in the ensemble, plays an attractive character in Maggie. She seems to be into the countercultural movement and a sort of emblem of the free-spirited decade. It's because of her spunky and unpredictable nature that I enjoyed the subplot of her trying to meet Kennedy. I think we can all relate with similar experiences trying to meet famous people.

As much as stewardesses (particularly of old) were associated with sex symbols, the Berlin episode wisely makes a couple moves to show these woman as empowered but not dislikable. Maggie flirts and befriends a journalist in order to get into a press conference but makes it clear she won't trade sex for a front row seat. Also, newbie Laura (Margot Robbie) rejects the advances of one of the co-pilots.

The episodes provide an excuse for a hodgepodge of stories about these characters in a time and place which hasn't been particularly disappointing so far. More than a number of other shows, I do question how many plots they can derive out of this show, but if shows like "Chuck" or "Gilligan's Island" can stretch a thin premise, I'll wait and see.

One slightly awkward part of the third episode was how lightly it treated the plot wherin French stewardess Colette (Karine Vanasse) comes to terms with her childhood in World War II. This should have been "Sophie's Choice"-level drama and didn't fall short by a lot, but still. Likewise, when Kate (Kelli Garner) makes a life-threatening mistake in her espionage activities, I can't imagine the show will all of a sudden turn into 24.

All in all, a pretty decent show worth checking out.

Coming Up: Up All Night, New Girl, H8ters, 2 1/2 Men and possibly Murhy's Law

Ricci as Maggie is already a fairly well-developed character

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