The pilot episode of The Playboy Club gives us a glimpse into the first Playboy Club in Chicago, which opened in 1963. The swanky club features “bunnies,” who serve privileged keyholders. Each girl on the show has her own secret and it looks like the show will unfold those secrets throughout the season. So what happens when the world’s most famous bunny not named Bugs meets Mad Men? Hopefully something that does more than just cater to the teenage-horn-dog in us all.
We get a voiceover from Hugh Hefner himself, which attempts to set up the anything-can-happen vibe of the 60’s-era show. We meet Maureen (Amber Heard) and besides her dancing skills and a great set of teeth (yes, I said teeth), she’s pretty and the pilot does a great job showing us that through constant close-ups. However, this is all we get to learn about her in the pilot, as the show seems content with holding off on her backstory. She wants to be a star of the show, and she’s got a ways to go. Of course she winds up with hunky club member, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), who’s also dating the aging queen bunny, Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti).
So how much is skin does NBC show on a Monday night at 10 p.m.? Is it enough to warrant the NBC Salt Lake City affiliate from refusing to air the series? Is it enough to really upset feminist activist (and Christian Bale’s step-mommy), Gloria Steinem, who once protested against the clubs by going undercover as a bunny and called for a boycott of the show? Surely there’s more than enough gratuitous nudity to make the Parents Television Council demand NBC pull the show from its lineup? Sadly, for the naysayers, there’s more skin shown during an autopsy on a procedural than on this series. Heck, Ashton Kutcher showed more skin in his first Two and a Half Men show than was seen on this series. It’s just about a girl who wants to be the best sexpot she can be and that’s all harmless fun.
Also roaming around the bunny-building is the aforementioned Carol-Lynne, who relishes using her acid tongue to cut people down to size. You can sense her lack of trust in people. As queen bunny, Carol-Lynne advises bunnies how to behave while working. No chewing gum, no leaving your post to dance. One can only assume someone will break the rules every few episode so that Benanti can get some snark in.
Another character running around is the club’s manager, played by a very out of place David Krumholtz. Maybe the role will grow a bit as the series goes on, but the character seems badly miscast as Krumholtz is just not smarmy enough. Besides, his biggest moment in the pilot was answering a phone call from Hef.
It’s easy to see why NBC picked the show up; it’s a period piece based around the glamorous and tumultuous sixties. Considering the time period has worked for Mad Men for four years now, the peacock is trying to deliver their own version of the decade, although Mad Men uses advertising for nostalgia’s sake to reflect on current times works far better than using sex, which will always just be sex.
It’s pretty hard to judge any series based on its first episode. The Playboy Club is no different. You have to introduce the main characters and the main story lines and a few characters like Naturi Naughton’s Brenda seem primed for meaty, juicy story lines going forward. Chicago in the sixties is also known for an excess of organized crime, which is hinted at in the pilot. While it was a bit of a lackluster first episode, NBC could have a really good show on their hands if they can nurture it correctly, but as we all know, during the fast and furious fall premieres, that’s easier said than done.