Gay Girl’s Goggles: “Pan Am” SnapCap (1.01)


When only four percent of scripted TV shows feature LGBT characters, what’s a gay girl to do? Why, strap on your gay goggles and watch TV along with us, of course! Our handy appraisal scale is better than any old letter grade. Other sites A+. We say, “What about our lezzy-lady feelings?”

In his review of Pan Am, Bret Hartinger got it just right: It’s no Mad Men. And while the new ABC drama certainly piggy-backed off the success of Mad Men, it’s not trying to copy-cat the method of Mad Men. One is bleak; the other is bright. One is cryptic; the other is conspicuous. One is five-course meal of self-identification, gender and sexuality politics, and the psychology of desire; the other is a buffet of adventure, romance and burgeoning girl power.

And I’m in lesbians with both of them.

Pam Am is easily my favorite pilot of the fall TV season (so far). Sure, it’s escapism, but it’s escapism with an eye toward adventure. Escapism with an eye toward intrigue. Escapism with an eye toward romance. Escapism with an eye toward feminism. And just escapism for the sake of escapism. There isn’t a single moment when Pan Am apologizes for being gooey. And it shouldn’t. Not every show needs to be Breaking Bad.


Of all the pilots I’ve seen so far this fall (and I’ve seen all the pilots so far this fall), Pan Am is the one that has AfterEllen readers’ names all over it. The two men may be in the driver’s seat when it comes to flying the newly minted Boeing 707-121, but the women steer the premiere.

Yes, the entrenched sexism of the ’60s is on display in Pan Am, but in a completely different way than Mad Men. The stewardesses (all white, of course) are forced to meet weight requirements and wardrobe requirements (including a girdle!) and beautiful face requirements. But the flip side of that chauvinism is that they’re able to make a good living without getting married, while sailing on the wings of adventure to see the whole entire world. They are, in the words of caddish co-pilot Ted, “a new breed of women.”


Here’s another enormous difference between Mad Men and Pan Am: One is all head, and the other is all heart. From the sweeping, swelling original score, to the familiar crooning of Frank Sinatra, the soundtrack was begging the audience’s hearts to explode in a cacophony of nostalgic wanderlust. The closing scene of the premiere was especially hooray-worthy, as our four leading ladies marched onto the Clipper Majestic in the sunset, while a little girl watched from inside the airport with Superman-caliber admiration on her face. Welcome to the wild blue yonder of early feminism, little lamb!

The other main feeling of the premiere was drama! Drama for everyone! In addition to a zippy forward-facing storyline, we got a glimpse into every character’s back story. A runaway bride! An always-second-place sister engaging in international espionage! A thwarted love affair! A proposal during the Bay of Pigs evacuation! A missing girlfriend! A Greenwich Village pre-hipster conforming for the benefit of not having to conform!

As I was typing that list, I was shaking my head in disbelief. I can’t believe the writers squeezed all that into 45 minutes. Maybe the Clipper Majestic has secret TARDIS capabilities!


Ultimate marks for ’60s authenticity! Those red-orange Tourister suitcases, the 1963 Manhattan skyline (complete with Pan Am high rise), the Life magazines, the Checker cab speeding up Park Avenue. And, of course, those stewardess outfits. I bet you a hundred badrillion dollars that Pan Am stewardesses will be ubiquitous this Halloween.

I very rarely long for days gone by, but did you see how much leg room the Majestic Clipper had?! The center aisle was as wide as my driveway!


Again, I think the show made a really smart decision to hint at the gender and sexuality politics of the day without glaring angrily at at. Surely it will play a role in the coming episodes — keeping our nostalgia firmly in check — but, you know, sometimes it’s fun to watch period dramas without having to go all Feminist Anger Ball.

Of our three leads, only Colette (and only maybe) is looking for a husband. Kate is running away from a would-be husband. Laura is running toward the waiting arms of the CIA. And Maggie is keeping her liberal-minded Greenwich Village ways bottled up a bit for the chance to travel around the world. Her story is the most fascinating to me so far.

What did you think of the Pan Am pilot? (Heh. Pilot.) Will you be tuning in for more episodes? And now that it has aired, do you think the Mad Men comparisons will stop flying thick and fast? Or is the juxtaposition inevitable for the rest of the show’s run? And where does it fall on your Grrl Power meter?

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