The opening episodes of ABC’s new series Pan Am, and NBC’s The Playboy Club, are cagey attempts to capitalize on the American yen for early 1960’s chic embodied in the critically acclaimed cable tv hit Mad Men. While the two new shows are generally spot on regarding the wardrobe, hairstyles, and decor that marked the era, other details were not granted sufficient attention. The shortcomings include dialogue, character development, and story line.
One area where Mad Men succeeds where imitators fail, is in its accurate representation of period dialogue. Never does a Gen-Y expression slip into the teleplay. Last night alone, the adjective “amazing” was uttered on The Playboy Club. Amazing, (and it’s predecessor, “awesome”) in the context and tone in which it was used during the episode, did not enter the lexicon until The Gilmore Girls hit the small screen, and the boy band Hanson a phenomena. In addition, another Bunny character answered a question with “It’s complicated.” Really?
While The Playboy Club addresses issues such as civil rights and sexual identity (examing the former much earlier than did Mad Men), it suffers from a lethargic, gangster subplot. The Chicago mob story line lacks tension, leaving viewers uncaring. Those seeking an aesthetically hip, cheesecake factory, will find one there.
Which brings us to Pan Am. Okay, these directors also nailed the look, although wide shots of uniformed stewardesses striding through airports are tired ripoffs from the film Catch Me If You Can. One half expects Leo himself to pop up on set any minute. The early ’60’s attitude towards women is a common theme of both series, which one expects to develop further, now that the expository episodes are behind us.
Neither show boasts as many intriguing characters as Mad Men. Both would be well served by better music, background and popular. The quality of the acting is, shall we say, not on a par with that on popular Showtime (The Big C, Dexter, Weeds) or HBO (Hung, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Entourage) series. If it’s not on the page, and the casts are weak, neither bunny tales nor flights of fancy will survive the November sweeps.