The Playboy Club would not exist had it not been for the success of Mad Men. Although the two shows are completely different from one another, at least as far as I can tell, it’s still obvious that NBC put this into production to cash in on the period drama hot streak their cable brethren have been having. But while this show has style to spare, as well as a good cast that occasionally elevates the material, The Playboy Club falters with an unengaging story that isn’t even fun in a trashy night soap sense.
Using the 1960′s Chicago club the show takes its name from , The Playboy Club stars Amber Heard as Maureen, an Indiana girl who moves to the big city and gets a job selling cigarettes and looking cute for the club’s very high end membership (the only way in is with a key given out by the club itself). She captures the attention of Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), a high powered attorney with mob connections who also happens to be shacking up with Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), the first ever Playboy bunny who pretty much runs the place due to her stature. When Maureen is assaulted by one of the club members, Nick runs in to help her and the member ends up dead due to an errant high heel kick (most guys usually pay to be stabbed with a high heel). Nick decides to help Maureen hide the body which causes friction with Carol-Lynne who thinks he’s cheating on her. Carol is also butting heads with the club’s manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz). There are other bunnies too, but they don’t matter.
The Playboy Club has a good style to it; the 60′s are great asthetically and they don’t waste the chance to showcase off some of the popular hairstyles and clothes of the time. Heard and Krumholtz are also good in their roles, with the latter especially shining despite his very awkward (read: fake sounding) Chicago accent. Cibrian is also adequately charming as Nick “Such a TV Name” Dalton, and could end up being the best character on this show should it make past a handful of episodes.
But those few bright spots are not enough to ignore the rest of The Playboy Club and the rest isn’t very pretty. First off, the fact that it’s on NBC already hurts them; although softcore by today’s standards, Playboy itself is an institution of debauchery and being on a network automatically tones down anything potentially racy. There’s a mild sex scene between two characters, but it’s done as tastefully as possible so as not to offend the advertisers and soccer moms. For a show about a club where “anything goes”, that’s going to be a big handicap to overcome; it’s like if The Sopranos had been on Fox instead of HBO.
It also doesn’t help that the plot is completely unengaging and revolves around a murder cover-up. For most shows, something that like would be a last ditch effort to revive the ratings (think Friday Night Lights Season 2 then forgive me for using that as a comparison since it’s a far superior show), but here it’s actually the instigator. I’m all for a trashy late night soap, I loved Nip/Tuck, but here it felt forced like the writers had no idea what to do with The Playboy Club so they went into their book of cliches and picked the easiest one they could find. It should focus more on the people and their lives, not some hackneyed murder/mob conflict; have faith in your characters.
Ultimately, The Playboy Club is nice to look at but there’s not much else there (essentially the stereotype that Playboy Bunnies always face, ironically). It’s not all bad, certain cast members are good in their roles and its visually appealing (also the performances by “Ike and Tina Turner” and “The Supremes” were nice touches), but there’s just nothing to latch onto. The murder cover-up has been done to death and unfortunately looks to be the central core of the show (that and the Maureen/Nick relationship that stems from it), instead of the club and the people itself. I’m sure the other characters will get their moments, but it’ll continually revolve around Maureen/Nick/the Mob until some sort of resolution is met and it’s not worth spending the time to pursue it. Throw in the fact that anything racy or controversal will be edited out since it’s network television, and you’ve got a show that could have been good but has too much working against it (I won’t even get into the ridiculous Hugh Hefner “looking back on the fun I had” voiceovers). Had The Playboy Club been on AMC or another cable network it could have stood a chance; but in its current form, there just isn’t enough to keep me watching.