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Network TV is taking on the ’60’s! While NBC premiered The Playboy Club last Monday, ABC’s Pan Am took off last night, visiting the days when flying was a luxurious experience, as opposed to the borderline sky-high bus-ride it has become today. With two shows tackling the ’60’s, which one looks like it’s coming out on top?
As AMC’s Mad Men has proven, the ’60’s are an era brimming with potential for great stories, with the country on the verge of huge social changes. Both Pan Am and The Playboy Club are set during the early ’60’s and focus largely on young, ambitious people looking to make something of themselves. While the women at The Playboy Club are doing it dressed as bunnies, Pan Am’s crew of characters does it at 30,000 feet.
The Playboy Club’s focus is on the exclusive club, where wealthy men go to smoke, drink brandy and other dark liquors, listen to good music, and feast their eyes on the gorgeous women waiting on them. Meanwhile, Pan Am’s visual appeal is in the luxury of flying. The stewardesses are all under the age of 32, single and look like models. Amusingly, the bunnies at The Playboy Club are apparently allowed to marry (wearing a wedding band while dressed in bunny gear is discouraged), the flight attendants of Pan Am must remain single or expect to be grounded. The same applies if they don’t wear their girdle.
One place where Pan Am and The Playboy Club seem to match so far is the extreme lack of smoking. Perhaps Mad Men has set the standard there for what’s expected of the era, however there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much smoke in the air in either of these shows. Whether this is network TV’s way of rewriting history to leave out the now largely socially incorrect habit, or because none of the actors (and crew) wanted to risk lung-cancer for the sake of the show, who knows? But it’s noticeable, especially in The Playboy Club, where you’d expect the air to be a virtual cloud of cigar and cigarette smoke. People used to smoke on planes too, didn’t they? I don’t think I saw anyone light up on board the plane during last night’s series premiere. Is the non-smoking trend in either show a bad thing? Not really (especially for the sake of the casts’ health) but it does seem to strip a bit of the realism away from the setting.
One might assume that The Playboy Club will out-do Pan Am in the sexy department, and while the setting certainly offers the NBC series a built-in advantage there, Pan Am has already introduced a number of romantic (and physical) developments, including one stewardess who gets herself involved with a man she discovers is married. No one was going at it in the bathroom (as was shown in The Playboy Club premiere), but with so many pretty people working in such close quarters, romantic encounters seem like an inevitability.
It may be too early to say which series is doing the ’60’s better. Right now, both seem to be banking on the appeal of the costumes, hairstyles, music and setting, with classic cars and vintage decor filling up our screens. I especially loved the old magazines shown on stands during an earlier scene in Pan Am's premiere. It is worth noting that neither series seems to be putting any emphasis on anything other than the upperclass society of the day, with perhaps the exception of Christina Ricci’s character spending her ground-time in the Village among the more bohemian crowd of the day. Aside from exceptionally good-looking people, money is the biggest common denominator among these two shows and that thread offers both series the opportunity to celebrate all of the luxuries the era had to offer.
Whether it's because you weren’t around for the decade, or because you were, there’s a lot for viewers to look at in both dramas and there’s certainly a fair amount of novelty to that, which should carry both shows through their first few episodes. Which series (if not both, and if either) manages to survive beyond that will likely depend on what’s done with the story. Both Pan Am and The Playboy Club offered some intrigue in the way of sneaky behavior among their characters in the premiere episodes, with an accidental murder starting things off on TPC, and Pan Am featuring one of the lead characters becoming a part-time spy. Whether either of these story arcs prove to keep viewers around remains to be seen. In the meantime, both shows are doing a fine job of creating something exciting and exceptionally pretty to look at.
Which TV Show Is Doing The '60's Better?
The Playboy Club airs Mondays at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.
Pan Am airs Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.