If you're a fan of sexy clavicles and completely nude backs, your arm was probably a bit sore after watching the premiere of NBC's The Playboy Club. The series is one of network TV's highest-profile new offerings this season, thanks to its "Playboy" brand tie-in and the promise of sexy times, but the big question going into Monday night was whether NBC could succeed in creating a Mad Men for the masses or whether it would just be an utter disaster. And now that question has been answered, because The Playboy Club is not very good. At all.
The show's biggest problem is that it's clearly the work of several studio brains exploiting a TV trend to make a show they think people will like, rather than the vision of one singular showrunner creating art. The result is an awkward drama with a lot of skin thrown in just because. "People like sex, people like murder mysteries, and period pieces are on fire right now! Bam! This is gonna put NCIS in the grave!" Not so fast.
AMC's Mad Men is the clearly The Playboy Club's idol. Last night's debut opened with dated, voiceover narration that went something like this: "The '60s were a crazy time, see? And at the Playboy Club, everyone had dreams and sex!" But whereas Mad Men won critical praise for nailing the ethos of revolution during a turbulent time in American history, The Playboy Club is simply playing dress up.
Another obvious influence: Every single mafia show or movie ever made, particularly Martin Scorsese's Casino and Goodfellas, as evidenced by the aforementioned (and horrid) voice-over. Then there's the mob murder at the heart of the show; this plot was set in motion when Bunny Maureen (the wooden yet wood-giving Amber Heard) put the heel of her stiletto through the jugular of a mafia king who got a little too happy with the hands. But is this a story about the colorful characters of the legendary Playboy Club, or is it a Chicago-style gangster drama? Here's a hint: If you ever you find yourself asking what a show is after watching it, it's bad television.
And we're not even done yet. Because NBC is so high on music at the moment (thanks a lot, The Voice) and has deemed Monday nights "Music Mondays," there are some random musical numbers thrown in for good measure. They're designed to evoke the atmosphere of the era—and they do—but it would have been smarter to spend more time establishing characters and less time letting them lip-synch to "That's What I Call Music: The 1960s Vol. 8."
The energetic Naturi Naughton is the lone bright spot in the cast as Brenda, an African-American Bunny with dreams of bearing all for Hefner's magazine. I have no problem with her. Spin her off and give her her own show, NBC. Elsewhere, Eddie Cibrian as hunky Nick Dalton isn't fit to hold Jon Hamm's cigarette butt, Numb3rs' David Krumholtz is reduced to a smarmy, one-dimensional manager, Laura Benanti is serviceable as bitchy aging Bunny Carol-Lynne, and everyone else is forgettable—but that's simply because the show tried to cram too much into the pilot.
Whatever you do, don't believe any "The Playboy Club is empowering to women" crap you might here from producers or anyone else involved in the show. Aside from Carol-Lynne, who actually exhibits a desire to be more than a fleshy diversion, all the other ladies seem to embrace the fact that they're being paid to be treated as objects.
The Playboy Club is striving (and failing) to combine Mad Men, Martin Scorsese, and something musical, but all it's done so far is hit the Showgirls bullseye. At least that flick gave us a peek at some of the broads' cans, see?
... What kind of idiot tries to rape a girl, gets stopped by another man, knocks him down for an instant, then continues to try to rape the girl while the guy is still in the room? The dumbest mob boss ever, that's who.
... "You couldn't be a victim if you tried." Groan and a half.
... Have you ever seen people so calm after killing a mob boss?
... The Playboy Club is looking like a good pick for our Dead Pool, a friendly competition designed to test your skill at predicting which new fall shows will be canceled first. The opening-night numbers were pretty bad: A 1.6 rating among adults and just over 5 million viewers overall, which pales in comparison to its competitors, Hawaii Five-0 and Castle.
How would you categorize The Playboy Club? Is it soft porn for seven-year olds? Gangster drama? A period piece examining the sexual undertones of a country on the verge of revolution? Unsightly discharge from NBC's nether-regions?