By Bethany McHugh
With the hype surrounding the premiere of “The Playboy Club” on NBC, it was difficult to know what to expect from the inaugural episode. Some critics were concerned it was simply capitalizing on the success of “Mad Men” by aping the era aesthetic. Surprisingly, “The Playboy Club” proves to be anything but a carbon copy of the hit AMC drama, with intriguing mysteries engaging each of the many main characters.
The show begins with sentimental voice-over work by Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner. New Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) has just started her first night of work, and she can’t help but admire senior Bunny Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), a long-term resident of the Playboy Club free to do as she pleases. Maureen, much to the dismay of Carol-Lynne, garners the attention of all the men at the club, including boyfriend to the senior bunny Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian). Unfortunately, Maureen also catches the eye of Bruno Bianchi, who attempts to force himself upon her in the back room. Nick comes to her rescue, but kills Bianchi in the process. In an unfortunately cliché resolution, Nick and Maureen dump the body in the river, for as Nick reveals, Bruno is the crime boss of Chicago.
Romantic entanglements are quickly established, as Carol-Lynne believes she catches Nick and Maureen in the act. The scorned lover ten uses her newly acquired power as “Mother Bunny” at the club to hassle the new bunny and, in Maureen’s eyes, keep her enemies close. Throughout this time, however, Nick and Maureen hope to keep up appearances, using the cover story that the two went home together, which Carol-Lynne already believes to be true.
The list of secrets grows ever larger, as an intriguing twist presents itself with Bunny Alice (Leah Renee). She is publicly married to Sean (Sean Maher), which in private is acknowledged as a sham – both are gay but protecting one another from public scrutiny. The gay premise was essentially abandoned on “Mad Men” for a few seasons, but it will hopefully be explored here as the season progresses. Social commentary is also brought to life through Bunny Brenda (Naturi Naughton). As the only African-American bunny in the Club, she hopes to be the first centerfold of her race.
Even Nick Dalton is not without a few secrets. Nick’s family appears to be involved in some illicit underground mob activities, which brother still seems to find himself mixed up in these activities. Nick has distanced himself in his political aspirations, but clearly cannot escape the sins of his family.
Despite the ludicrous number of secrets and agendas, “The Playboy Club” is by no means a disappointment. Instead the pilot is a rather enjoyable, relatively classy look at the risqué history of the Playboy franchise. What is most important to take away from the episode is that while each girl is rooted in the Playboy background, the story is specifically not about Playboy itself and how it developed. Rather, it is how Playboy provided a job for women and an experience for men – and in some cases, vice versa – but ultimately the Playboy brand does not detract from the mysteries and secrets of each character. This is not an “E! True Hollywood” story nor a documentary on the History Channel. This is drama by NBC, and, for the first time in a while, a pretty good one at that.
Bethany McHugh is a contributing writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington Square News will be covering “The Playboy Club’s” inaugural first season as part of our new TV Special Feature. Check back on the blog every Tuesday at noon for recaps, analysis, and critiques of this exciting new show.