The Play Boy Club: Season 1, Episode 1
Perhaps it was the gaping void left in my summer TV schedule by the unfortunate lack of Mad Men that made me agree to review the pilot of The Play Boy Club. But all this show made me want to do was switch over to Netflix and rewatch the original, infinitely superior show.

First of all, Hugh Hefner's random narration of the pilot, talking about the revolutionary atmosphere and the unprecedented nature of the party, is sort of off-putting, especially when Heff shows up on screen as the back of a head and a weird voice. Hopefully it disappears in the later episodes, because it also reeks of product placement and a sad little old man desperately clinging to the wisps of his glory days.

Obviously, the show tells the tale of the Play Boy Club in Chicago, starting in 1963, with a particular focus on a select group of bunnies and the various male employees and patrons involved in their lives. We begin with Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard), the brand new hire from Indiana who doesn't really know what she's doing, other than fulfilling her apparently life-long dream of being a bunny. Maureen is blond and pale and perfect, still bright-eyed and naïve, but, we see early on in the episode, learning the seedy ways of underground, mob-run Chicago quickly. By the sixth minute of the Pilot we see the new blonde Bunny Maureen kill a high-powered mob boss with a stiletto straight to the throat. Next comes Bunny Alice (Leah Renee), the nice bunny, Bunny Brenda (Naturi Naughton), the chocolate Bunny, and Bunny Janie (Jenna Dewan, better known as Mrs. Channing Tatum), the sort of slutty bunny. Then there is the lecherous club manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz) and bartender Max (Wes Ramsey), Janie's boyfriend.

Eddie Cibrian as the lead piece of man-candy Nick Dalton is doing his best Don Draper. It wouldn't surprise me if the actor originally slated to play Dalton, Jeff Hephner, was replaced not only for Cibrian's bigger name (made bigger by that whole Leann Rimes scandal), but for his resemblance to Draper. Slim tie, well cut suit, impeccable hair. I mean, he even sounds like Don. Everyone seems to know Nick's reputation as an irresistible womanizer (even though he is apparently in some kind of relationship with Mother Bunny Carol-lynne, played by Laura Benanti) just like Don. And just like Don, Nick is a boy with a past that he's trying to outrun: apparently he has ties with the Bianchi crime family, ones he's been trying to cut in his quest to become the state attorney general. But when crime boss Bruno walks into the Play Boy Club one night and gets rolled out in a carpet, Nick starts to get drawn back in.

I'm sort of tired of the instant connection relationships, the ones that start with a quick glance across a room and develop into the kind of thing that makes you willing to dump a body in a river within 10 minutes of meeting. Because obviously that is exactly what happens with Nick and Maureen. All of the bunnies and club patrons keep saying that Maureen is the prettiest tail to walk into the club in a long time, as evidenced by the fact that her cigarette tray is selling out, and she proves it when she "lands" the big one. Nick's attraction to her makes him realize that she goes missing for a few minutes when she goes to the back to get him a pack of Marolboro Reds, and he goes back to discover her cornered by the afore-mentioned crime boss, who she inadvertently kills. He switches into hero mode and helps her get rid of the body and hide the evidence, starting a flirty conspiring that makes everyone think they're sleeping together. Most of the Bunnies admire Maureen for it, and most of the men are ready to give Nick high fives because of it, but then there's Bunny Mother Carol-lynne to cause trouble for it.

Lets talk about Bunny Mother Carol-lynne for a minute. I mean, the whole concept is terrifying. The first and most repeated thing we hear about Carol-Lynne is that she has been at the Club longer than anyone else, and that she maintains a sort of iconic status because of it. But then we also find out that she's involved with Nick which, considering all the things we've heard about Nick's reputation, makes her appear just as naïve and desperate as your typical baby bunny. Not to get all feminist on this review, but it makes me sad that Carol-lynne is portrayed as sort of pathetic, Norma Desmond-esque aging bunny with a kind of antiquated bunny etiquette. In a lot of the run up to this show, the female leads have come out to say that the bunnies are symbols of empowerment, women taking control of their sexuality and using it in a way that makes them idols rather than objects. As Heff says in his voiceover towards the end of the episode, "the bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be." But really, that isn't true, and Carol-Lynne proves that. The Bunnies don't get to be what they want, especially not under the reign of a mother bunny. They have to be what the club management wants them to be, what the Play Boy organization wants them to be and, more importantly, what the patrons want them to be. Gilding female empowerment under a thin layer of female sexuality gallivanting as promiscuity doesn't really do it for me.

Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, The Playboy Club proves to be a poor man's Mad Men. The sets aren't as luscious, the costuming isn't as pristine, and, as it stands, Carol-lynne is far from being a Joan, and Nick is definitely no Don. There is none of the emotional heft, none of the humanity and subtle nuance that makes Mad Men such a completely fantastic show, only the spectacle, which won't last long. I can only hope that it's a symptom of a pilot trying to capitalize on a well-established trend, and that The Playboy Club finds a way to be its own show

Grade: B-

Little Things:

Sean Maher, AKA Simon Tam from Firefly plays Alice's sham husband!

Even the nice girl, Bunny Alice, has a secret. She's a lesbian in a sham marriage with a gay man, stockpiling money to start a kind of gay secret society. It's a little weird.

"Do you know what it's like to watch your girlfriend get hit on by every guy in the club every night?" "Yup. That's why I married her, got her pregnant and ugly."

Monkey-wrench! In her new capacity as Bunny Mother, Carol-lynne madates that bunnies can't sleep with or date key holders. And so begins what I can only imagine will be a nice long forbidden/hidden love affair. O joy.

"Who needs smart? You're the only guy I know who puts his hand up a girl's skirt looking for a dictionary."

Tags: The Play Boy Club
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