Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stay home from The Playboy Club

    The Playboy Club just premiered on NBC. In the "Pilot," Clyde Hill (Randy Steinmeyer) tries to rape new bunny, Maureen (Amber Heard, Hidden Palms). Maureen kills him, only to learn that "Clyde" is a mob boss. Luckily for her, lawyer Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian, CSI: Miami, Ugly Betty) is around to help her hide the body. Nick's girlfriend, Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti, Eli Stone) catches the two of them together and gets the wrong idea, causing her to end things with Nick. Clyde's death does not go unnoticed, and soon Maureen grows frightened.

     The biggest problem with The Playboy Club is the writing. Character after character delivers cheesier and cheesier dialogue, constantly taking viewers out of the moment. This begins immediately with the opening monologue, delivered by Hugh Hefner himself, who substitutes "every bunny" for "everybody." It continues, though, and before long one is left wondering if there are any experienced writers at all working on the series.

     The mob angle is interesting, because it provides plenty of action outside of the club, and raises the stakes. Plus, it seems logical for 1960's Chicago to be heavily involved in mob affairs, and thus, it makes sense. Action can be good, and the sight of Maureen stabbing "Clyde" to death with her stiletto is actually amusing and cool. Too bad the threat represented by the next mobster who comes to talk to Maureen, all but disappears when she delivers some "snappy" banter.

     The Playboy Club looks great. The period costumes are welcome, especially those as iconic as the Plaboy bunny outfits. The club, with it's bright, primary color paneling, and dark, smoky main room is authentic. Nick's apartment is even better. Sure, it's stocked with neat, vintage furniture and sliding bathroom doors, but this look could still be considered "in" under the right circumstances. Many people would love to live in that apartment, even today.

     The acting isn't too bad. Heard is decent. Benanti is fantastic as the first "mother bunny," showing club manager Billy (David Krumholtz) that she can't be fired or pushed out. Her victories are triumphant, and her musical numbers showcase her talent nicely. Cibrian isn't bad, per se, but his character evokes a wimpier, weaker Don Draper, so he kind of falls flat. Don Draper would take state's attorney with no problem, while Dalton just dreams about holding the job. The other bunnies, each with their own hook (gay, married, black) are just not all that memorable.

     As far as the claim that The Playboy Club shows just how empowering it could be for women in that time period to be a Playboy bunny, that's bull. Some of the girls do have strong personalities, but none, except Carol-Lynne, has the slightest chance of making major decisions for themselves anytime soon. This would be OK because it's period correct if the series didn't try to pretend that's not the case. It feels forced and fake.

     Many reviews for The Playboy Club have been scathing. I wouldn't go quite that far. There are some good elements in place. But, as mentioned, the dialogue is trite and horrible. If it doesn't improve quickly, it will likely sink the series before it even gets the chance to start.

     You can catch The Playboy Club Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

     Click here to catch up with streaming episodes of The Playboy Club.

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