sat 28/11/2015

Pan Am, BBC Two | TV reviews, news & interviews

Pan Am, BBC Two

Trolley-dolly soap stretches the bounds of credulity

Definitely not Ryanair: (left to right) Maggie, Kate, Colette and Laura usher in the Jet Age

This is a very odd series. Even the BBC seem to be wondering what on earth they're supposed to be doing with it, since after the Wednesday night airing of these first two episodes Pan Am is moving to Saturday evening, with a Thursday repeat. 

Effectively it's a giant posthumous commercial for the glory years of America's most famous airline, rendered as a mixture of tacky corporate promo film and feather-brained soap with patently fake sets. It's 1963, and we zero in on a group of wonderfully glamorous Pan Am hostesses in their figure-hugging blue uniforms as they prepare to fly out of New York on the inaugural flight of the Pan Am Clipper Majestic. I guess it must have been Idlewild airport, since (as all plane-spotting pedants will know) it only became JFK on 24 December, 1963 (Pan Am Boeing 707, pictured below).

When we saw the stewardesses being weighed and checked to make sure they were wearing girdles, you could have been forgiven for thinking they'd invented that bit, but not so. Come Fly With Me, the documentary about the history of Pan Am shown last weekend on BBC Two, confirmed that this blatant size-and-shape-ism was part of the airline's culture. Scenes of Pan Am aircraft rescuing Cubans from Havana after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion were also based in historical fact, and the show's developing subplot about the airline allowing itself to be used as a tool of American foreign policy was by no means without factual foundation.

But such politically charged issues have been turned into mere fluffy backdrops for Pan Am's interweaving yarns of romance and family dramas. We meet the Cameron sisters, feisty Kate (Kelli Garner) and pin-up sibling Laura (Margot Robbie), who has made the other girls seethe with jealousy by getting her photograph on the cover of Life magazine, over the headline "Welcome to the Jet Age". The sisters are at daggers drawn with their controlling mom back home in Connecticut, because Laura ran away on her wedding day to sign up with Pan Am, and Kate wholeheartedly encouraged her.

It's a giant posthumous commercial for the glory years of America's most famous airline, rendered as a mixture of tacky corporate promo film and feather-brained soap

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