With the on-hiatus Mad Men off the air until next spring, the major broadcast networks are wisely co-opting the '60s-era nostalgia that makes the AMC series so popular. NBC seems to have stumbled with its "scandalously dull" The Playboy Club, a series about the beginnings of Chicago's first gentleman's club that lacks Mad Men's incisive take on sexual politics. ABC's own "Mad Men ripoff," Pan Am, which debuted Sunday night, follows the lives of four stewardesses at a time when flying was still a glamorous adventure — and a progressive career for independent women. Does Pan Am succeed where The Playboy Club failed?

It's the best-looking new show of the fall: If Mad Men "burrows under the surface of the swinging '60s," says Matt Roush at TV Guide, "Pan Am is all surface." And that's a good thing. Infectious, glossy, and romantic, the series could "become our new Sunday addiction." The pilot is visually stunning, "fetishizing the worldly stewardesses" and their international adventures and amours "in the tradition of the best beach reads." Watching Pan Am is "like getting a free upgrade to escapist class."
"Matt's Guide to weekend TV"

But it goes beyond "pretty pictures": This isn't just comely girls in form-fitting uniforms, says Robert Bianco at USA Today. The jet era was "the dawn of a new age for women," offering them more freedom and opportunity than ever before — and yielding a wealth of interesting story lines for Pan Am. The plots introduced in the pilot — an affair gone wrong, a runaway bride, and, to lesser effect, a Cold War espionage mission — range from "soapy to fun," and are more grounded in truth than the "ridiculous" Playboy Club.
"Pan Am: The ticket to beautiful nostalgia"

But it needs more substance to compete with Mad Men: Pan Am makes the mistake of depicting the jet age as "more glamorous than real," says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. It fails to tackle the era's sexual politics as accurately, and intriguingly, as Mad Men does, reveling instead in the "cool blue stewardess outfits" and its own "retro hipness." The closing, pilot-defining shot of the four stewardesses strutting through an airport in formation while the camera pans back to the face of young girl regarding them in awe, though gorgeous, would force Mad Men's Joan and Peggy to "have a cry over progress."
"Pan Am: TV review"