Tuned In: Entertaining and subtle 'Pan Am' takes flight
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There's little doubt ABC's "Pan Am" is fall's most stylish, visually sumptuous and entertaining pilot. Debuting Sunday at 10 p.m. on WTAE, the "Pan Am" premiere episode is fun but maybe too subtle. It's a show that requires viewers pay attention; drift and you might get lost about the characters' relationships.
Set in 1963, this light -- tonally and visually -- series follows flight attendants and pilots for Pan Am at the dawn of the Jet Age. Fans of "The West Wing" take note: The director of "Pan Am" is Thomas Schlamme, who sets the show's look in "Pan Am" just as he did on "The West Wing." But he also brings to "Pan Am" a similar tone of optimism and awe.
When pilots take flight in a new Pan Am Clipper jet, they smile at one another with sincere enthusiasm as their plane races down the runway.
"Better buckle up," says purser Maggie (Christina Ricci). "Adventure calls."
Some viewers may see this wide-eyed glee as corny but I suspect those who responded to "The West Wing" and its unbridled reverence for leadership and the presidency also will be drawn to a similar, if less lofty, zeal in "Pan Am."
Ms. Ricci is the show's biggest name star but it feels like a true ensemble. Her Maggie appears to be part of a Bohemian community in her private life and she may be a rule-breaker on the job occasionally -- when we meet her she's been grounded for a uniform violation.
Other flight attendants include newcomer Laura (Margot Robbie), a runaway bride who wants to see the world, and her sister, Kate (Kelli Garner), who has a secret second job. French Colette (Karine Vanasse) tends to fall for married men.
In the cockpit, new pilot Dean (Mike Vogel, "Miami Medical") gets razzed by co-pilot Ted (Michael Mosley).
Sunday's "Pan Am" premiere, written by executive producer Jack Orman ("Men of a Certain Age," "ER"), includes a number of flashbacks and introductions that reveal some of the characters' relationships and motivations, but they don't hit you over the head. That subtlety is admirable but also a little worrisome: With "Desperate Housewives," which does not require careful attention, as a lead-in, will viewers have the patience for "Pan Am"? Every television series launches on a wing and a prayer, perhaps none more than this entertaining, glossy drama.
HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" kicks off its second season at 9 p.m. Sunday with a montage set to music that checks in with most of the major characters before setting new plots in motion in 1921 Atlantic City.
Power broker Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is under investigation for election fraud. Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) has a new house -- and he's now legally married. Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) finds herself more drawn into Nucky's business dealings just as many of his allies pull out. And the KKK attacks the bootleg warehouse owned by Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams).
It's a busy hour but easy-to-follow, thanks in part to that opening reminder sequence.
The season premiere's best moments are in the editing. Viewers see Nucky's two-faced politics. He offers sympathy in an address to "the colored community" before he turns around and slams them as "obstreperous Negroes" before an audience of white businessmen.
Federal agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) gets his prudish wife all hot and bothered when he authorizes a raid on a restaurant where they dine that serves alcohol. The cut to a new scene turns out to be a funny psych-out for viewers.
Kids' network The Hub debuts a music competition series, "Majors & Minors" (8 tonight), featuring 12 younger performers, ages 10-16, who will be mentored by artists such as Leona Lewis, Adam Lambert, Brandy and Avril Lavigne.
Unlike some adult reality contests, no one is voted off. At the end of the season, one participant will be named "class valedictorian."
Pittsburgh native Gary A. Randall, who grew up in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill and left Pittsburgh in 1971 when we went to college in Arizona, is one of the "Majors & Minors" executive producers.
"I just love my city," he said of Pittsburgh after a Hub press conference in late July in Beverly Hills, Calif. "My father used to call it the best kept secret in the United States."
Mr. Randall's past credits include A&E's "The Glades," TNT's "Saving Grace" and Lifetime's "Any Day Now." He hopes one of his future credits will be a Pittsburgh-set series he's been developing as a passion project. Titled "Iron City," the drama centers on a blue collar father, a former steelworker who used his pension to buy a Primanti's-like restaurant in the Strip. He has three grown sons: A Pittsburgh police officer, a politician who wants to be mayor and a young reporter for the Post-Gazette.
"All the stories in the city feed through this family of men," he said. "We're kind of using 'Bonanza' as a paradigm. I haven't been able to sell it yet but I keep talking to CBS about it."
"Iron City" has not yet made it to the script stage and Mr. Randall's company has other projects in development at ABC, Fox and NBC.
ABC Family's first movie musical, "Elixir," Monday begins production in Pittsburgh starring Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"), Chelsea Kane ("Jonas"), Sara Paxton ("Shark Night 3D"), Drew Seeley ("Another Cinderella Story") and Tom Wopat ("The Dukes of Hazzard").
The two-hour movie, which will air in 2012, stars Ms. Seymour as Harper, a stage mother who drinks a potion that makes her 30 years younger (Ms. Kane plays the younger version of the character). This allows Harper to infiltrate her daughter's wedding and try to get her to return to a dance production she recently quit.
The life of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" star Andy Whitfield -- who died earlier this month from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 39 -- will be remembered on Starz Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. with a five-episode marathon of his "Spartacus" series.
The entire season will re-air beginning Dec. 16 in advance of a new season that debuts in January with a new actor, Liam McIntyre, taking over for Mr. Whitfield in the series' lead role.
Fox's "The X Factor," which felt like watching an episode of "American Idol" circa 2007, won its time period at 8 p.m. Wednesday but fell to third against ABC hit "Modern Family" and CBS's "Criminal Minds" at 9 p.m. "Factor" did not live up to "Idol" ratings in preliminary ratings. ... Lifetime has canceled "Roseanne's Nuts" according to the star's Twitter feed. ... Current TV gives a show to another MSNBC refugee: Cenk Uygur, who hosted "MSNBC Live" at 6 p.m., will host "The Young Turks" weeknights at 7 beginning later this year. ... Fox is developing a hotel version of "Kitchen Nightmares" with Gordon Ramsay using the working title "Hotel Hell." ... ABC Family has canceled "The Nine Lives of Chloe King" but will order more episodes of "The Lying Game" and renewed "Make It or Break It" for a third season. ... USA has renewed "Covert Affairs," "Royal Pains" and "Necessary Roughness" for additional episodes. ... TLC brings back the Roloff family for the special "Little People Big World: Off to School" (8 p.m. Oct. 2). ... With Ann Curry busy as "Today" co-host, NBC named Lester Holt principal anchor of "Dateline NBC." ... Radiohead will perform on a one-hour edition of "The Colbert Report" Monday at 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. ... In the teeth of broadcast network premieres, National Geographic Channel debuts docu-series "Rocket City Rednecks" (9 p.m. Wednesday), about five guys from Huntsville, Ala., home of NASA's Marshall Flight Center, who set out on all sorts of backwoods experiments as weekend warriors. ... Carnegie Mellon University School of Music freshman Ethan Crystal from Wilsonville, Ore., is competing with his high school a cappella group Soul'd Out on Monday's episode of NBC's "The Sing-Off" (8 p.m. WPXI). ... WTAE will preview the University of Pittsburgh game against Notre Dame on "Pitt Game Day" (11 a.m. Saturday).
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Entourage," "Love Bites" and KDKA-TV news anchors. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Raising Hope" and "Two and a Half Men." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about the Emmy telecast, "Two and a Half Men" and "Castle." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.
First Published September 23, 2011 12:00 am