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Series / Pan Am

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"Come fly with me, come fly, let's fly away..."

Pan Am was a television series which aired on ABC in the USA. It focuses on four Pan Am stewardesses; Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci), sisters Kate (Kelli Garner) and Laura Cameron (Margot Robbie), and Colette Valois (Karine Vanasse); and their two regular pilots, Dean Lowery (Mike Vogel) and Ted Vanderway (Michael Mosley), during the airline's height of popularity in the 1960s. Expect lots and lots of Tropes on a Plane.

Dueling Shows with NBC's The Playboy Club and both attempting to capture the success of Mad Men for primetime broadcast television. Neither attempt worked, though Pam Am barely "won" the duel by lasting a whole season before being quietly canceled. It is arguably best known for introducing audiences outside Australia to Margot Robbie (those who hadn't seen her on Neighbours, anyway). Originally ran from September 25, 2011 to February 19, 2012.

Had more success overseas, to the point Amazon was interested in a second season (which did not go through).

Tropes found in Pan Am:

  • Affably Evil: Broyles is a smuggler who uses his personal relationship with Juan Trippe to get out of a lot of jams. That, and he is incredibly charming. He isn't an antagonist, but otherwise he fits this trope like a glove.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Ted and Sanjeev both go back "to get coffee" (even though Colette just brought some) when she mentions that Kate is taking her clothes off for the entertainment of the sailors they're flying. But not to worry...
    Colette: I said she was taking her clothes off, but I didn't say who was putting them on.
    Dean: (Rolling his eyes) Sailors...
  • Ambiguously Bi: Maggie after being kissed by Ted's fiancee, Amanda, while shocked doesn't seem too disturbed, even later nonchalantly mentioning to the crew, it wasn't a half bad kiss.
  • The Beard: Amanda sees Ted as "proof" she's not gay, and considers marrying him for that purpose.
  • Berserk Button: Colette really does not like Germany given that her entire family was killed by the Nazis. Of course, given that she's the most outwardly calm stewardess of the lot, she only shows this indirectly, such as by singing the Nazi national anthem at a party honoring US/West German partnership.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • Colette is the Archie to Dean's Veronica and Omar's Betty, but she's also the Betty to Dean's Archie and Bridget's Veronica.
    • Maggie finds herself in one with Congressman Rawlings' Betty and Captain Broyles' Veronica.
    • Laura is the Betty to Amanda's Veronica for Ted.
  • Big Applesauce: Subverted. The crew's home base is in New York, but every episode features a flight to at least one location overseas - as Pan Am was, at the time, strictly an international carrier.
  • Blatant Lies: Maggie's life turns out to be pretty much built on this.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Laura (blonde), Maggie and Colette (brunettes), and Kate (redhead). Bridget initially filled the blonde role.
  • Bottle Episode: Episode 8 takes place almost completely on the plane and tarmac in Haiti and the events seem to take place within roughly an hour or two, rather than several locations and a few days like most episodes.
  • City of Spies: Berlin's unique nature, being an enclave of the West inside the Communist Bloc, makes it a hotbed for espionage.
  • Cold War: Discussed by the various CIA and MI6 operatives Kate deals with; international flight crewmembers make great intelligence assets because their jobs provide them with built-in covers. Intercontinental flights during this era weren't exactly safe, though, and neither was spying. Bridget learns both lessons to her cost.
  • Cool Plane: Clipper Majestic, the Boeing 707-321 the crew routinely flies. Naming the plane is actually Truth in Television, as all Pan Am's aircraft were named Clipper—a nod to the days when the airline predominantly flew Boeing 314 "Clipper" flying boats, and the airline's "island-hopping" transoceanic routes were thus known as the Clipper Service.
    • The 707 is one of the all-time coolest planes, along with its contemporary competitor, the Douglas DC-8, it shrank the globe in a way not matched until the Internet came along. "Transformative" doesn't even begin to cover how the 707 changed the world.
  • Creepy Child: Charlie has shades of this when he breaks into Colette's hotel room in the middle of the night while she's asleep and stands over her bed.
  • Crew of One: Captain Lowrey and First Officer Vanderway have a heated argument on final approach to Hong Kong about the Captain's handling of the plane. While such an argument between pilots may seem like an dramatic exaggeration there is actually some truth to such a situation. In the days before such things as 'Crew Resource Management' came along in 1980s commercial Captains would often have a My Way or the Highway attitude to flying.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Some pretty clear examples in the way the stewardesses are treated, but others include the strong taboo against interracial relationships (shown in the outcome of the public display between Laura and a black sailor) and the treatment of women's sexuality.
    • A rather subtle example is how when one of the stewardesses gets married, it's presumed that she will quit (this is the reason why everyone thought Bridget quit), however no such assumption is made about the male pilots. (Truth in Television: until the 1970s, stewardesses were fired for getting married or becoming pregnant).
  • Dirty Communists: The first Pan Am flight to Moscow goes pretty awry thanks to some less than hospitable KGB agents. Invoked strongly in-universe in conjunction with Red Scare, especially by the intelligence agents that Kate has contact with.
  • Dropped-in Speech Clip: The episode "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" is set on the day JFK travels to Berlin to give the eponymous speech. While the action follows the main characters, they are at times close enough to hear snippets of it, using clips of the actual speech, while Kennedy himself is never actually seen.
  • Dueling Shows: With The Playboy Club. Both are considered to be knock-offs of Mad Men to boot. And this show is the big winner, as Playboy Club was cancelled after just three episodes before the show had even premiered
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Laura is set to screaming from on top of the bed in her hotel room when a lizard drops onto her from the bed canopy. Maggie picks it up and calmly puts it outside...only to join Laura on the bed when she finds a snake in the bathroom.
  • Face–Heel Turn: In the series finale, Anderson betrays the CIA and MI6.
  • Fanservice: The Stewardess are beautiful leggy young women who often times get some cheesecake shots when out of the already flattering uniforms. Not to mention the Pilots are played by two handsome dapper men. As in real life, Pan-Am was known for hiring crews that were exceptionally attractive, in particular the Stewardess.
  • Foregone Conclusion: "New Frontiers" ends with the news that JFK has been shot, and people wondering whether he'll make it. This is arguably Truth in Television, as JFK did cling to life for a bit after the shooting.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Laura the sweet, naive one, Maggie the self-righteous one, Colette the romantic, and Kate the sensible Team Mom.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Colette (Sanguine), Maggie (Choleric), Kate (Melancholic), Laura (Phlegmatic).
  • Girl Next Door: Laura and Kate both start out as this but get plenty of Character Development over the course of the season.
  • Guile Heroine: Maggie. So much.
    • Almost all of Kate's schemes when her missions go awry demonstrate her ingenuity and ability to force others to do what she wants through manipulation (for instance, using a combination of eliciting sympathy and blackmail to get Anastasia and Broyles to help her when Laura and Bridget get taken by the KGB)
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Kate and Laura.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Collete does this to the entire nation of Germany: she went to Berlin to forgive the Germans for World War II, only to discover that she couldn't.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • "It's Castro's country. He'll never keep it."
    • "That Bob Dylan will be famous, mark my words."
    • Rather more tragically: "He'll pull through. He has to."
  • How We Got Here: Some episodes show the events of a single flight, mixed with flashbacks to explain how all the girls are acting.
  • I Am Spartacus: The girls pull this when asked which one of them brought the Haitian girl aboard.
  • Improvised Weapon: Maggie fends off a drunk and horny passenger with a carving fork when said passenger attempts to sexually assault her in the plane's galley. Complete with Bond One-Liner, "I am not included in the price of your ticket!"
  • Indy Ploy: How Kate gets an East German courier whose cover has been blown to safety in "Ich Bin Ein Berliner."
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Amanda deploys an unusual variation of this trope when she asks Laura to be Ted's mistress.
  • Jerkass:
    • A lot of the passengers on the Caracas flight, but the guy who tries to steal his suitcase back after everyone's been ordered to lighten the plane is probably the most explicit.
    • In the first scene we see Ted's dad in, he is refusing to help his son get back into the Navy test pilot program because it would involve looking for the flaw in the plane's design Ted claims crashed the plane...which, since his company has a contract to make that plane, would cost him a lot of money.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ted and Broyles. They both become more likable the more you get to know them. In Ted's case, his skeezy advances on the Stewardesses seems only to be done as a way of playfully teasing since he views them all as close friends, with them all giving it just as good as taking it, and once he begins to get serious feeling for Laura he backs off considerably.
  • Landing Gear Shot: Frequently.
  • Lie Detector: Kate has to pass a polygraph test to prove that she didn't shoot the man she shot in the previous episode. She passes.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Amanda, apparently.
  • Local Hangout: The pilots and the stewardesses will often hang out in the empty jet.
  • Love Triangle: Dean/Colette/Bridget once she returns.
    • Also, Laura/Ted/Amanda.
      • Both apparently resolved in the finale, at least enough to give some closure.
  • Male Gaze: Inverted in 'Genuine Article'. The camera zooms in on Maggie's hip but it came from a woman's eye view.
  • Military Maverick: Ted when he was in the Navy. It backfires horribly when he crashes the test plane. He claims the plan had a defect, the Navy ruled that he made an error.
  • The Mole: Anderson is a Soviet double agent.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Cameron (Kate and Laura's mother), along with a decent dose of Evil Matriarch. She does show a few sympathetic flashes in "We'll Always Have Paris," though.
  • New Year Has Come: The first season finale ends with the gang watching the New York City ball drop from a nearby balcony.
  • Psycho Ex: Ginny when Dean breaks up with her.
  • Politically Correct History: In some ways. Although smoking was much more accepted in The '60s (and even allowed on planes), nobody does so on screen. However when a black sailor has a budding romance with Laura in public, he gets assaulted.
    • Also, no one freaks out when Maggie mentions that Amanda kissed her on the lips, in a time period where gay people were generally thought to be predatory perverts. (Possibly because, even then, lesbians were certainly much less stigmatised than gay men?)
  • Precocious Crush: Charlie on Colette in "Romance Languages". Too bad he is a Creepy Child.
  • Product Placement: Inverted. The production company licensed the name and logo of a well-known defunct airline to promote the show. There is a 'Pan Am' surviving, though, a small railroad company in New England.
    • There is one piece of Pan Am still living that is connected to the original 1927 Pan American Airways — the flight school at 36th Av, Miami FL.
    • It is remarkable how well-known Pan American World Airways and its blue globe are, that twentysometing years after its demise people still know of it, speak of it, and cared enough about it to try to make a TV show about it. The end result wasn't what the creators wanted at all.
      • Many people still hold Pan Am as the apex in airline service.
  • Public Exposure: Laura admits during a game of Truth or Dare that she had the photographer that was following her around take nude photos of her.
  • Ransacked Room: Kate finds her hotel room in shambles and thinks that someone was looking for the camera she's supposed to deliver. It was actually Laura and Maggie discovering that Reptiles Are Abhorrent (see above).
  • Red Scare: Kate's handlers often invoke this trope.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • How Maggie gets the girls in to the reception for JFK in Berlin.
    • How Kate gets the East German courier into the same party, and Collete singing the Nazi national anthem.
    • Maggie's "interview" for the stewardess position.
  • Romantic False Lead: Ginny for Dean, Amanda for Ted.
  • Rule of Drama: When they were trapped on the short runway in Haiti, Dean could have technically turned the plane around instead of lightening the load.
  • Runaway Bride: Laura, with Kate's assistance, pulls one of these, escaping what's heavily implied to be Stepford Suburbia to see the world as a stewardess.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Kate's reaction to the other courier's plight. Collete bringing the Haitian refugee aboard.
  • Sexy Stewardess: Of course. Then again, for the time period it was actually an Enforced Trope - see below.
  • The '60s
  • Ship Sinking: There probably won't be too many fans of Kate and Anderson since in the finale he betrayed the CIA and MI6 and threatened to kill her.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Seems on the cards for Ted and Amanda.
  • Shown Their Work: The stewardesses have to weigh in before each flight; girdles are mandatory, with Maggie receiving a suspension for not wearing hers.
    • In "Eastern Exposure" (which shows a round-the-world flight) Clipper Majestic's callsign is "Clipper 2." Pan Am Flight 2 was the east-bound round-the-world flight departing from JFK. (Flight 1 was the west-bound departing from SFO)
    • Again in "Eastern Exposure," they show the much-feared approach into Hong Kong's Kai Tak International runway 13 — at night, in rough weather. They got all the little details right, except for the cockpit drama regarding the crosswinds being at the limit. IRL that would've been won by Dean and the 1st officer would've just said "yessir."
  • Spy Speak: Part of Kate's job.
    • Played for Laughs in "Truth or Dare" when, while carrying a group of sailors home, one of them starts talking to her about a "traitor" and "defector." Kate, of course, assumes this is a contact and one of the others is about to defect to the Soviets, but it turns out the sailor in question is really "betraying" their noble bachelor ranks, and the "contact" wants Kate to provide the entertainment.
  • Starcrossed Lovers: Kate and Niko, she's an American Stewardess/CIA Courier, he's a Yugoslavian Ambassador working for a communist regime. Needless to say it doesn't end well, though she was able to get him to defect and help the USA and their Allies fight against the USSR, as a double agent.
  • State Sec: The Stasi in East Germany.
  • State Visit: The episode "Ich bin ein Berliner" is framed around President Kennedy's visit to Berlin to give the eponymous speech. Maggie, a huge fan of JFK, is especially excited and keeps trying to find a way to actually meet him .
  • Stepford Smiler: Collette strays into this territory when the crew is sent to Berlin, bringing back bad memories of the Nazi occupation for her.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Maggie appears to rat out Dean and Ginny in order to leverage a good word to her superiors.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Laura at the end of " Romance Languages."
  • The Unfavorite: Kate feels like this in comparison to Laura.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Laura rejects Ted's advances in Berlin, but then starts regretting that after finding out he's not as much of a jerk as he seems and as he pursues romance with a childhood friend.
  • Virgin-Shaming: Reversed, the only one shaming Laura for being a virgin is Laura. After a conversation with Kate, she lets Laura know there is no stigma for wanting her first time to be special, and to take her time and wait for when it's the right time for her.
  • Woman Scorned: Maggie decides to get back at Kate after she steals the guy she had her eye on.
  • What Could Have Been: In-universe example. Had Ted not crashed his test plane, he could have been part of NASA instead of an airline co-pilot.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Maggie gets called out by her English professor, who has figured out that she is not who she says she is. She took the place, and name, of a student who was dropping out. She did brilliantly, but he couldn't give her the grade she earned because she wasn't even his student.
    • Maggie gets called out again by Colette for ratting out Dean and Ginny's affair to his superior.
  • Where da White Women At?: Laura and Joe (played by Gaius Charles).