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September 23, 2011

NBC's "The Playboy Club:" Save Your Outrage

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Image Courtesy NBC

Before it even premiered, the buzz about NBC's The Playboy Club was deafening. Gloria Steinem called for a boycott, the Parents Television Council urged affiliates to drop it, while at the upfronts, executives from the show claimed it would be all about female empowerment.

Well, the show premiered Monday night, and here's the scoop. The Playboy Club is a belated attempt to capitalize on AMC's excellent Mad Men. It's set at Chicago's Playboy Club in the early 60s and revolves around new Playboy bunny, Maureen (Amber Heard).

Within the first ten minutes of the episode, Maureen is nearly raped by a lecherous mobster in the backroom. Coming to her rescue is Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), a crusading lawyer with a shady past.  But before Nick can do his hero thing Maureen gets the mobster in the neck with one of her killer stilettos.

Now because the mobster is a pretty dangerous character, Melanie and Nick get rid of the body and pretend nothing happened except that they went back to his apartment for a little pre-sexual revolution sex.

The rest of the episode involves a search for the mobster by his dangerous pals, Maureen fantasizing about being a singer, and Nick practicing his Don Draper voice every chance he gets.

In the meantime there are plenty of women running around in skimpy Bunny costumes and Playtex Cross Your Heart bras and girdles.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there are several problems with the show. The first is that it's boring.

Contrary to its buildup, it's not provocative, it's not daring and it's not sexy. The characters are stock versions of every bad character you've ever seen on a TV drama and the 1960s sets, lighting and styling are mediocre.

"Mad Men" has set a high bar, and just because you give every character a cigarette, a drink, and a bouffant hairstyle, doesn't mean viewers will believe it's the 60s.  On top of that, the dialogue between the men and women, especially the ones in relationships, is, for want of a better word, too equal.

The most entertaining part of the show was watching Karen LeBlanc play Tina Turner. She was terrific.

The Playboy Club also proves why one of the criticisms of Mad Men is unfair. People often say that Mad Men doesn't show enough of say the black experience or the gay experience in the 60s.

Well, as I've said before, that's not what the show is about. The Playboy Club tries to blunt that criticism by not only having a black Bunny, Brenda (Naturi Naughton), but a whole secret society of gay people trying to raise money for the cause.

Now I like Brenda, and if they had built a show around her, set in the 60s at a Playboy Club, without the mobsters of course, that would have been unique, and I'd watch.

But honestly, with this Playboy Club, all Ms. Steinem had to do was watch the premiere to understand she could have saved her indignation. The show premiered to soft ratings and if that trend changes, I'd be surprised.

For a truly unique insight about the show, Vanity Fair has an exclusive recap featuring a former Playboy Bunny, Marilyn Miller.  Here's an excerpt:

The first thing that was incorrect was the dancing together—we never danced! The Bunnies danced together, but never with a customer. It was a rule. You couldn’t dance with the keyholders.

Another thing the show got wrong was that there weren’t any mobsters or politicians at the club. I didn’t like the whole show.

Maureen at Glued to the Tube had a different take:

I actually really liked this show! It already had going for it that they named their main character after me, it’s in Chicago, and my friend is an extra on it (I didn’t see you, Matt!). I like that there is a purpose beyond just being sexy and trying not to get fondled. . .will she get caught? She sucks at hiding things, so it’s possible!

Did you see the show?  What did you think?

Cross Posted from BlogHer.com

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