Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Series Premiere: THE PLAYBOY CLUB

The Playboy Club
Where: NBC
When: Mondays @ 10pm


I totally get it. "Mad Men" is a throwback to a time and place that few of us remember or were even alive to experience. And maybe it's time for other networks to cash in on the phenomenon. With ABC's "Pan Am" and NBC's "The Playboy Club" both hitting primetime this Fall, there is no shortage of 1960s fare to choose from. And considering one of my favorite guilty-pleasures of all time is the original "Girls Next Door" series, I knew I couldn't resist watching anything Playboy Bunny related.

In NBC's surprisingly dark new drama set in 1960s Chicago, "The Playboy Club" tells the story of just that: The infamous club where only key-holders were granted access to the decadence, style, and sin that only Playboy could offer. Featuring opening and closing narration by Hugh Hefner himself (wonder how long that will last), the world is painted with rouge, pastel satin, and flowing liquor. Sexy, right?

Leading the fluffy-tailed pack is veteran Bunny and lounge-esque singer, Carol-Lynne (frequent Broadway star, Laura Benanti - who I was lucky enough to see in "The Wedding Singer" over 5 years ago), who quickly finds that being the queen of the nest also means the years may be starting to show. Her back-room romance with frequent patron and influential Chicago lawyer, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) is threatened when Dalton witnesses the Club's newest bunny, Maureen (Amber Heard) accidentally kill a man in self-defense [fighting off a rape attack with a heel to the throat will do the trick.) That attacker turns out to be the dangerous head of a Mafia crime family, and with Dalton's help covering up the crime, and web of intrigue begins to form.

I was a little shocked by the seriousness of the show, and how dark (so quickly!) it turned out to be. Maybe that's what I liked most - it wasn't expected. Murder, crime syndicates, and politics all seem like heavy fare for show with Playboy as a backdrop, but somehow, it works. The Club isn't treated like a joke or a kitschy farce, so we don't view it like one.

The most noticeable thing is that it seems to be trying a lot less hard than its 60s-era counterparts. The costumes aren't as exaggerated, the language isn't as "Hey, look! We're in the 1960s! Things were different then!" - and I as a TV viewer with more than a few brain cells in my head, I greatly appreciate the effort.

Eddie Cibrian fits this period well, and he's believable as a likable "playboy." In turn, Amber Heard's Maureen is a wonderful lead, who may fall in and out of the period on occasion, but it being only the Pilot, I feel confident she'll find consistent footing. The B-characters are also richer already than I would have expected from episode 1, from the slew of Bunnies and various key-holders, to the Bunny husbands/BFs and the Mafia henchmen (Troy Garity!)

By far one of my favorite premieres so far, perhaps because it was the one I expected the least from. Already, I'm curious where this story will take us, and I'm definitely loving the dynamic backdrop and melodramatic intrigue. Hats off, Bunnies! Here's hoping you're here to stay!

Pilot rating: ***½/4 stars

UPDATE, 10/4/11: "Playboy Club" cancelled... Sad day.

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