'Pan Am'/'Charlie's Angels'

6:00 AM PST 09/20/2011 by Tim Goodman
ABC/PAtrick Harbron

Two dramas from ABC delve into the tricky business of nostalgia.

Pan Am (Sept. 25, 10 p.m.) and Charlie's Angels (Sept. 22, 8 p.m.) seem to want to go back to the '60s and '70s, respectively, to rustle up some girl power. Both fail miserably and offensively (and coming on the heels of NBC's The Playboy Club, perhaps all networks should try harder when documenting the plight of women).

Pan Am, like Playboy Club, seems to have been created to capture the nostalgia of AMC's Mad Men while increasing the audience tenfold. But it seems intent on making the idea of stewardesses and "the jet age" more glamorous than real. It has neither the period exactitude nor the writing talent that Mad Men wields so well to illuminate issues of the era. It only has the magazine-ad dreams of the times -- girls don't have to be their mothers; they can also be modern women who get weighed at work and dumped at 32 for being too old. Kind of a bummer if you think about it, but how cool is it that you get to fly to Europe and sleep with those pilots?

But Pan Am is not interested in mimicking the nostalgia of Mad Men all the way up to the point where, though sexism will not be easily defeated, progress is hard won. (We've watched Peggy from Mad Men take four seasons and lots of sacrifice to get where she is.)

Pan Am focuses on pilot Dean Lowrey (Mike Vogel), who is super-excited to fly planes and hop in and out of bed with his top stewardess, whom he wants to marry because he's a good guy. Enter Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci), who's a little boho, like Don Draper's first girlfriend, and yet also particularly keen to be in the rarefied air of the stewardess. (Although you can't look at Ricci without thinking, "What in the world are you doing in this?")

Also on hand are two sisters. Kate Cameron (Kelli Garner), the older one, is being recruited as an international CIA spy (though you never get the sense from Garner's performance that Kate can pull off stealthy spy work -- not ever), and Laura (Margot Robbie) is an aw-shucks type who runs away on her wedding day to be a stewardess like big sis. There's also a co-pilot who gets to utter these jaw-droppingly bad lines that are supposed to show the empowerment of stewardesses: "Look at that table over there," he says, pointing to the Pan Am stewardess posse at a bar. "That's natural selection at work, my friend. They don't know that they are the new breed of women. They just had the impulse -- to take flight."

Wow.

Then there's Charlie's Angels, a remake of the '70s jiggle show that seems to get remade more often than Equus. Well, this much can be said about the new television version: It's beyond heinous. It contains some of the worst acting of the past decade on network television, much of it by Minka Kelly.

The writing is atrocious. It's like a spoof that suddenly took itself seriously. That ABC could have made this on the drama side and the yet-to-air Work It on the comedy side -- far and away the two worst shows of this new season -- says a lot about what it takes to get fired in this town.

Listen, to go on any more about Charlie's Angels -- even to the point of talking about who's in it or who wrote it (why embarrass them more than necessary?) -- gives the show more validation than it deserves. Don't watch this show thinking it's so awful it could be brilliant. Or that you could make a fantastic drinking game out of it.

No, there are other series that will fill those needs. Charlie's Angels is an offense to every actor and writer now out of work. It makes Jersey Shore look like Shakespeare. And it sets the standards of television back to, well, the lesser efforts of the 1970s. And that's nostalgia nobody needs to relive.

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