There’s a pivotal scene on the critically adored period drama Mad Men where secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy is about to leave work with her decidedly Bohemian new batch of friends and looks back to see the pack of traditional, conservatively-minded ad men she works with. It’s a symbolically stark contrast, one that was surely carefully staged by show creator and mastermind Mathew Weiner.
The tides of change are what make the 1960s a topic that most television writers would love to build storylines around. This fall, ABC and NBC are grabbing AMC’s coattails and bringing the culturally-ripe decade to network television with Pan Am and The Playboy Club. With Mad Men out to recess until next spring, the networks are hoping to sate the appetites of viewers in its absence. Clearly there are elevated production costs associated with running a period show, regardless of the era, but these two are just the latest in a handful of examples – Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones also have aired to noticeable acclaim. Clearly America’s intrigue with the past outweighs the financial factors associated with its production.
With both shows set to premiere in the coming days, viewers are waiting to see if either will deliver the same level of excellence that Mad Men is reputed for or if they are destined to become cheap knockoffs forgotten by Halloween.
First up to bat will be The Playboy Club, premiering September 18. The ensemble drama, set in 1963, unveils the tales behind bunnies and keyholders alike in the original Playboy Club against a mafia-ridden Chicago background. Protagonist Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) gives off Draper vibes immediately detectable in the promos, which automatically sets up hissing from the naysayers. An ensemble of bunnies with every background imaginable, led by a balls-of-steel bunny mother (Tony winner Laura Benati). Amber Heard (The Pineapple Express) plays new girl Maureen, who’s implicated in a murder plot by the end of the show’s first hour.
Pan Am will follow on September 25. The Sinatra-laden ads and rock star portrayal of commercial pilots are reminiscent of 2002’s Catch Me If You Can in this jet-age soap about modern women living amongst old-fashioned ideals. Creators Jack Orman and Thomas Schlamme have spiced up the show by allegedly making one of the stewardesses into a spy, a juicy plotline that will be heightened by its paranoid Cold War setting. Despite facing frequent weigh-ins and other strict rules regarding personal image, like the bunnies of the The Playboy Club, the stewardesses are rewarded with the extra perk of travel. Christina Ricci stars, along with some actors you may have heard of such as Mike Vogel (Blue Valentine) and Kelli Garner (Lars and the Real Girl).
It’s rare that a gem as meticulously plotted as Mad Men comes along, and it’s clear that these pilots seek to provide glitz and pop tart fun in the name of history. With The Voice winner Javier Colon announced as a guest star portraying Ray Charles on The Playboy Club, viewers should take primetime television for what it is – entertainment – and enjoy the show.