The Morning Round-Up: ‘Pan Am’ and ‘Once Upon a Time’

Senior Television Writer
11.07.11 39 Comments

It’s time for another morning round-up, in which I have brief thoughts on the most recent episodes of “Pan Am” and “Once Upon a Time,” coming up just as soon as I borrow your uniform…

“Pan Am” seems to have established a character hierarchy, wherein at least one, if not both, of the Cameron sisters is featured prominently each week, and the other characters rotate in and out depending on room. In some ways, this can be good, as Christina Ricci has been surprisingly terrible so far (for someone who’s been acting as long as she has, she should know she doesn’t have to try nearly as hard as she so clearly is) and Dean is largely a snore. In others – mainly the way that Colette has been so minimized since the Berlin episode – it’s frustrating. That’s the challenge with doing an ensemble show like this, especially since stories where more than two characters interact have so far been rare.

Last night’s episode tried to tackle a pair of big issues, with Laura battling both racism and her own unexpected attraction to Joe, and Kate being confronted by the cold, deadly stakes of the spy game she’s started to play. Both had trouble shaking the notion that they were about something Important, but the Laura story at least had good chemistry between Margot Robbie and Gaius Charles(*). As for the Kate stuff with Goran Visjnic, I understand why the show is making her into more of a full-fledged spy rather than just a courier – there are many more stories to tell if she’s doing things beyond observing passengers or passing documents along – but the presentation so far seems really clumsy and implausible. I almost wish they had picked up the series with Kate already well into this new side career and very good at it; we might still question why the CIA might have recruited her, but not for very long once it became clear she has a gift and doesn’t keep stumbling around or seeming horrified at the everyday implications of the job. Maybe there’s less dramatic conflict there, but it also seems less flimsy.

(*) Who has some time on his hands ever since NBC replaced him with Katharine McPhee in “Smash: The Brian Williams story.” Also, will he ever be able to play another character who talks about his mother without everyone immediately picturing Mama Smash?

Meanwhile, last night’s “Once Upon a Time” was one of the two episodes ABC made available for critics before the series premiered, so I factored it into my original review of the show. Based on both the ratings and the reaction around here to the premiere, a lot of people like it, but I’m finding both the characters and the larger story fairly thin so far. Also, while a lot of critics have said they’d prefer it if the show took place predominantly in the real world, this was the first episode of the three that have aired where I found myself much more engaged by what was going on in the fairy tale world, with the revisionist take on Snow White’s first meeting with Prince Charming. At least in the fairy tale scenes, Snow White is a character with some spark and inner life, where in the real world she’s just a puppet of whatever it is the evil queen is up to.

What did everybody else think of both? Are you happy with how “Pan Am” is (or isn’t) evolving? Three episodes in, are you still enchanted with “Once Upon a Time”? 

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