Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fall Pilot #6: The Playboy Club

FALL PILOT #6: The Playboy Club

SUPPOSED SELLING POINT:  Mad Men-esque retro glamour, attractive ladies.
POSSIBLE SELLING POINT FOR ME:  Retro period piece, high probability of stylish parties.

NBC and ABC are both trying to capture idle Mad Men fans this fall with a bit of retro glamour and a complete misunderstanding of why it is that viewers are drawn to that world.  Where Mad Men wins out time and again in part because the writing is smart, the acting on target, and the setting immaculately conceived; the other part of its success is built off of its culturally relevant, sturdy adherence to story.  Mad Men doesn't glorify the mistreatment of women or play at any sense of glamour in being a Madison Avenue secretary, it subverts that silly notion and pushes its female characters to have an ambition and drive that we see them as socially uncomfortable acknowledging.  NBC's The Playboy Club, meanwhile, is a fetishistic sorority house that seems to be thoroughly committed to trying to convince anyone watching that its glorified cocktail waitresses were nothing if not driven suffragettes.  The sporadic, poorly thought out Hugh Hefner narration tells us that in the 60's "bunnies were some of the only women who could be anything they wanted to be."  Oh, really?  I'm thinking not.  Can anyone explain how that works?  Is it because they made really decent wages (another bunny says "I make more than my father")?  Because correct me if I'm wrong, but the tips are earned by looking good until they're too old to wear the uniform.  At what point does the "be anything you want to be" come into play?  

Where the narration and dressing room chatter between the ladies plays at a preemptive defense of the show's focus on corsets and ass, it seems a slow paced glimpse into the real life of the girls (which would have been potentially interesting) wasn't good enough for the executives at NBC.  So, instead of leaving our story to mine the highs and lows of an iconic position in a tumultuous period of American history, we get murder, intrigue, and a low-rent Don Draper impersonator.   Early into the show, our leggy blonde lead bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) fends off a gropey, rapey, murderous mob boss and accidentally kills him with a stiletto to the jugular.  Our phony Don Draper, the squinty Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), helps her dump the body in the Chicago River.  From that point on Maureen is a shaky, wide-eyed bundle of nerves, a wet blanket, and about as cardboard as they come. We know that one day the secret will be out, that Maureen will be hunted, and that all of this has nothing to do with the conflicts of the other half dozen characters we meet on this first outing. 

It's a vapid, dreary affair that can't decide what kind of story it's trying to tell.  Is it a straight period piece?  Is it another shoddy thriller?  Is it a dark American Dreams-esque showcase for dolled up musical acts (we get Ike and Tina impersonators twice in the premiere)?  Is it just a tarted-up primetime soap?  My money is on that last one.  Don't get sucked in by the allure of all that cigarette smoke and satin, The Playboy Club is really quite poorly conceived in its first outing.  While Gloria Steinem called for a boycott earlier in the summer, I'd say it doesn't even warrant that.  It's offensive, yes, but in such a superficial way that I'd find it hard to believe folks could watch it without an eye roll.  

As this ship goes down, however, someone should save Naturi Naughton (the self-proclaimed "chocolate bunny") from the wreckage.  She was sort of adorable, and I honestly have no idea why NBC didn't filter the focus through her potentially far more compelling story instead of through yet another small-town leggy blonde transplant.  Oh, wait...

Super lame, NBC. Super lame.

WILL IT MAKE IT TO A SECOND SEASON?: Pretty damn doubtful.

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