The fall TV season is underway and, despite the ever-lower numbers of women in the writers’ rooms, it’s being hailed as the year of the women: 17 out of the 25 new scripted shows on the Big Five networks are female-centered and many were created by women. In this series, comedian Leila Cohan-Miccio watches the new female-centered shows and evaluates how realistic their portrayals of women actually are. And now, The Playboy Club, the first of this season’s two 1960s flashback shows.
I’m just going to say some words: Playboy. Murder. Intrigue. Mobsters. Secret lesbians. Eddie Cibrian‘s face. Doesn’t seem like that combination could possibly be boring, right? And yet! The Playboy Club, which uses that exact formula, is a snoozefest of the first order.
There is a whole lot of plot in The Playboy Club (I counted four and a half separate stories), but in short, it follows the bunnies and patrons of the Chicago Playboy Club. The bunnies are newbie Maureen (Amber Heard, who totally kills a would-be rapist with her shoe in the first five minutes), Brenda, whose only personality trait is being black (Naturi Naughton, formerly of 3LW), seemingly innocent wife Alice (Leah Renee Cudmore), wild Janie (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), and Carol-Lynne (Broadway’s Laura Benanti), a former Bunny who’s now the house mother. They’re joined by douchey club manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz, my weirdest celebrity crush) and ethical lawyer with a secret, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian). Intrigue ensues.
The ensemble is strong and the costumes are to die for, but there’s not much else to recommend The Playboy Club. The dialogue is leaden (“If I wanted complaints, I’d call my wife”), the characters two-dimensional, and there are just too many plots for a pilot. The overall effect is shockingly dull, especially for a show marketing itself on glamour and intrigue.
The portrayal of the bunny lifestyle isn’t as bad as Gloria Steinem, who advocated a boycott of the show may have feared – the downsides are clearly shown – but there’s also a medium-gross attitude that being a bunny is an empowering way to live. At one point, the Hef voiceover intones “The bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.” Not really! They could be compliant sex objects. That’s about it. Sure, the women of The Playboy Club are making money (marvels Alice, “I make more money than my father“) and that’s empowering, but you know what else would be empowering? Making money at a job that let you wear pants. Selling sex isn’t empowering if that’s the only opportunity you have.
Despite these iffy gender politics, however, the real reason not to watch The Playboy Club is pure and simple – it’s just not an entertaining show.