There are two TV shows that started this fall that caught my eye. One is ABC's Pan Am and the other is NBC's The Playboy Club. C accuses me of watching period pieces simply because they are period pieces, but this isn't necessarily the case. I enjoyed "The Tudors" and I like "Mad Men", but despite my enjoyment of Jeremy Irons, I couldn't bring myself to continue watching "The Borgias" after the 4th episode.
Pan Am follows the stewardesses of Pan Am from flight to flight. One of them is involved in some sort of espionage activity that I haven't quite figured out yet. Only one episode has aired so far. The Playboy Club follows Playboy Bunnies and club members at the first Playboy Club in Chicago before Hef moved operations to California. Anyone who knows me knows that I regard Hugh Hefner as something of a cultural genius, so it was inevitable that I'd be drawn to this particular show.
Both shows take a look at life in the 60s from their various viewpoints: Pan Am depicts air travel, espionage, and the ridiculous standards women were expected to maintain; The Playboy Club also depicts the ridiculous standards women were expected to maintain, the Chicago mob, and the rise of "mainstream" men's clubs. However, they are both similar to Mad Men in a lot of ways. In fact, two of the characters (Bunny Maureen and Nick Dalton) are nearly dead ringers for the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Draper on Mad Men. Dalton is just as ambitious as Don Draper and, while Maureen isn't a housewife, she looks and talks the same as Mrs. Draper.
I had an inkling that both NBC and ABC are trying to capitalize on the absence of Mad Men until it starts up again and probably are hoping to drag Mad Men fans away. Both of the shows have promise. They have humour, suspense, drama, and everything that Mad Men had - right down to the same era. CBS tried, in 2008 with "Swingtown," but failed miserably. It simply could not compete with Mad Men. It had a somewhat surreal and unbelievable take on the sexual and social revolutions of the era. Mad Men, however, has been consistently more realistic with its portrayal of that time period.
While it's true that Swingtown didn't have a hope in Hell of competing with Mad Men (despite some decent TV acting), the same may very well not be true for The Playboy Club and Pan Am. Yes, they are a little more "glamourous" with the subject matter, but they are both believable - just as believable as Mad Men. They're both filling a gap that was created by the absence of Mad Men. As much as I want The Playboy Club to be more enjoyable than Pan Am, I feel like two of the key characters are far too much like key characters on Mad Men and that Pan Am has a better chance of competing when Mad Men airs again.
If both shows are renewed for next fall, they very could give Mad Men a run for its money. I'm not a TV show loyalist in that I'm not going to eschew an interesting episode of CSI just because Law and Order was there first as a crime drama. I enjoy Mad Men, but so long as Pan Am and The Playboy Club continue to entertain me, I'm going to keep watching them. I recommend both, at least to try, to everyone who potentially enjoys a period drama.