This post should really be titled “Pan Am and The Playboy Club vs. Mad Men,” but that would just be an unfair fight. I’ve said before that this fall would witness the trickle down effect from Mad Men‘s success, although whether the copycat shows would receive success of their own was more of a mystery. This week (premiere week), I watched a some-would-say gross amount of television, including the pilots of the two shows attempting to rip off my beloved Mad Men. Let’s talk about it.
Mad Men is a show known for sharp writing and acclaimed acting, but what truly makes it stand apart is its historical accuracy right down to the wallpaper in the office. The clothes, the brands, the companies–the show is never lazy about doing its homework. But part of being historically accurate is not glossing over the issues of that period. Mad Men portrays copious amounts of smoking, infidelity, and the shadiness of doing business. It is not interested in providing you with a glamorous look at the 1960s–it wants to show you how things really were. In that goal, the show also makes you think about how things have (or haven’t) changed. Are women like Peggy really treated with more respect now? Is an unmarried woman above the age of 30 an acceptable thing to be now? Are boys’ clubs that encourage promiscuity within marriages really a thing of the past? Mad Men asks these questions of itself and then of you. It is truly a spectacular show that sticks to its guns on what it wants to do.
Both Pan Am and The Playboy Club only seem concerned with ripping off the glamor of the 60s. They do not
want Mad Men‘s depth. Pan Am, especially, seems to be attempting to distance itself from its origin show by amping up the sparkle as much as possible. How many times throughout the course of the pilot did someone talk about how well-educated, worldly, and beautiful the stewardesses are? “Natural selection,” the co-pilot calls it. “A new breed of women.” As the four of them strut out to the plane in the closing scene, a little girl stares at them longingly through a window. Nice touch. If this show were taking the Mad Men approach, it would slowly unravel the glamor of this job to show what women really struggled with in this time period. But I don’t see that happening. We have sex, lies, love, espionage, and adventure.
“Adventures calls,” Christini Ricci’s Maggie says cheesily to the new girl Laura. Ooh, no. That’s some bad writing.
I have read that Pan Am is very well-researched. The rules and standards expected of the real Pan Am stewardesses are apparently accurately portrayed in the show. The girdle was a big thing, I guess. The look of the show is much more period-accurate than The Playboy Club, I will give it that.
Although The Playboy Club seems much more interested in looking like Mad Men to me. Eddie Cibrian is doing Don Draper to the very best of his abilities. His slow, calming, in-control voice. The suave raise of an eyebrow. The way he talks to Maureen about going on with her life like this big-life-changing-event-never-happened-O.K.? You can just hear Don saying, “It will shock you how much it never happened.” The very back of the man’s head is doing its best Don Draper in that poster. And we have secrets! And intrigue! And a girl who is out of place in a world she really wants to be in! The Playboy Club is sticking to a formula that Mad Men laid down–if only a surface version of it.
That’s where these two shows differ: The Playboy Club has an easy and clichéd but gripping plot to pull you in and Pan Am gave itself four women with deeper backstories. Right now Pan Am has a lot of balls in the air while The Playboy Club only really has one. Pan Am will, if it is smart, do much better in the long run and let those four women out of their boxes to explore what being a woman really meant in the 1960s. The Playboy Club will solve its mob murder problem and have nowhere to go.
So Pan Am wins. But let’s everyone just watch Mad Men on Netflix and then tune in in January, O.K.?