Naugahyde Aphrodites: NBC's 'Playboy Club'
Think of The Playboy Club as Mad Women After Dark. Except that -- like a Playboy centerfold and unlike Mad Men -- NBC's new prime time soap opera set in the original Playboy Club (Chicago 1960) is pretty much all surface.
Would Hugh Hefner approve? The inquiring viewer need wait only seconds into the season premiere (Monday at 10 p.m. ET) for Hef's voiceover. Going all philosophical, he intones, "It was a place where anything could happen to anybody." Hef does this again (mercifully, executive producer Brian Grazer spares us the bath-robed specter) at the end of the show. "I was a rebel," says Hef, slathering it like whipped cream on D cups. "Come on in. You can be anyone you want to be."
The same could be said of cities or your local Hair Cuttery. But there's a dollop of truth to the rebel bit. Playboy magazine and its offspring (including the Clubs) helped usher in a new middle-class zeitgeist that challenged postwar nuclear family norms, touted recreational sex (yeah, I know, some good articles, too), and most of all, mined a new vein of consumerist hip. Cocktails, stereo systems, Bruno Maglis, Italian roasters, and girls with even better curves and handling ability. Soon, women-of-the-silk-sheets got their version -- New Cosmopolitan Magazine aka Cosmopolitan aka Cosmo.
To its credit, NBC's Playboy Club centers on the Bunnies, and not only for their drool-worthy bods. Their Faustian bargain is to earn bucketloads of cash while fending off gropers and salving jealous boyfriends. In short: Money v. Love. But of course, they want respect, too! If neither hooker nor secretary, then what? Who ARE these naugahyde Aphrodites? Some are hard-bitten and cynical. But many are babes in the woods, Little Red Riding Hoods among wolves. In case we miss the point, the backstory for blonde lead character Maureen (played serviceably by Amber Heard) is: orphan from the Midwest.
My favorite part of the first episode was learning about the code of conduct proscribed during six weeks of Bunny boot camp. Gum chewing -- no. Correct posture -- yes. Humping keyholders in the janitor's closet -- no. And so on.
There's a subplot for everyone, most of them seemingly crafted to show how socially enlightened this citadel of sexploitation was back in the day. One for black folks: "You can't discriminate against these babies," says a chocolate Bunny as she jiggles her boobs. One for gay folks: Hey, look, it's a meeting of the Mattachine Society. Even one for folks who love mob shows.
The men are all basically scumbags, except the lead male, Don Draper-wannabe Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian, CSI: Miami). Like the Bunnies who flit about him, he is a princess-whore hybrid. "He's everything you want," one Bunny confides to another, "and he's everything you don't." One of the scumbags puts it more colorfully in the show's most memorable line: "You're the only man I know who puts his hand up a girl's skirt looking for a dictionary."
I came away not with a dictionary but with two questions. First, now that I know the Bunny Rules, why would I tune in again?
Second, can you really kill someone with a stiletto heel? Spend your hour watching MythBusters. They might have the answer.