'The Playboy Club': Don't Skip It For Women, Skip It For Humankind
The pilot of The Playboy Club that will air tonight on NBC is quite different than the one they originally circulated — the one producers and actors tried to convince critics was all about the empowerment of women. As you'll recall, we went through a lot of the show's internal contradictions back then, and we don't need to cover all that ground again.
I will say this: There are changes to the pilot that I think are intended to make Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) less passive and therefore a more satisfying central character. The mess that she and the super-suave Nick (Eddie Cibrian) get themselves into is slightly more of a shared mess, and slightly less of a situation where she stands around blinking while he solves everything. I think it is meant to give her agency, and in that regard, you know what? It helps a little bit. She has a bit more gumption in the revised pilot than she did in the original pilot. It's still a very small amount of gumption, but it is incrementally increased gumption.
The problem is that this really doesn't save the show. The show isn't really all that offensive; what was offensive was the producers' attempts to co-opt feminism to sell it to women. The problem with the show is largely that it's boring.
Cibrian is playing a watered-down Don Draper, not in the "vaguely inspired by" sense, but in the sense that, particularly in a scene he plays with David Krumholtz as the club manager, he sounds like he's hosting Saturday Night Live and he's in the Mad Men sketch. It is mimicry to a distracting degree. But Nick isn't interesting, Cibrian isn't Jon Hamm, and the clumsy effort to make him noble by adding a plotline where he's a crusading civil rights attorney is futile, to say the least.
I don't want to spend more attention on this particular pilot than it deserves, to be candid. It's splashy, it's heavily promoted, and it's just completely uninteresting. Don't misunderstand: I'm not angry at The Playboy Club for not being expertly written and acted. I like a good, frothy nighttime soap. There are a couple of shows that may turn out to be just that kind of thing this fall. But this isn't particularly soapy, it isn't sexy, it isn't fun. It's just uninspiring actors going through the motions, weak and watery dialogue ("You're selling something people want — and it sure ain't cigarettes!"), and cliched plot elements (bitter aging beauty resents younger beauty, good man struggles to escape criminal ties, and so forth).
You've seen this all before, done better. You'll see it done better again. As a matter of fact, you'll see it done better this week. There's absolutely no reason to sit through The Playboy Club, revisions or no revisions. It's one thing to be all in good fun, but this is all in no fun.