The Playboy Club – Pilot Review

Concept: Set in the titular club in 1960s Chicago, the show follows the bunnies, the management and the politicians and mobsters who make up the patrons.

When this one popped up at the upfronts my take was: This could end up being the kind of show that you tell people to ignore the title and the blurb and just watch because it’s superb. Or it could be horribly sexist and offensive.

After watching the pilot, I’m definitely leaning towards telling people to ignore the title. I settled in expecting to spend a lot of time rolling my eyes, but I was absolutely engrossed from start to finish. It was an extremely well crafted and polished piece of work, everything that a pilot should be and yet so rarely is.

It’s hard not to see the Mad Men influence on this show, not least as the lead actor looks and sounds more than a little like Don Draper, but it takes a different approach to storytelling. The primary criticism aimed at Mad Men is that it’s very slow; fans (myself amongst them) love the fact that it’s so subtle that plots bubble away for dozens of episodes before you even really realise they’re plots at all. The glacial pace at which issues like women in the workplace or racial discrimination are dealt with make the tiny steps forward so much more satisfying.

The Playboy Club however is much more upfront about issues, there are several characters who are actively trying to change things, each in their own way. In addition to those threads the story is helped along by some actual action, personal conflicts, relationship issues and plenty of potential for scandal and excitement. At least half a dozen storylines were introduced in the 45 minute pilot, more than most seasons of Mad Men see at all.

It’s not really possible to write a review without mentioning the fact that it’s The Playboy Club, but it’s actually all surprisingly… classy. There’s a fair amount of girls in skimpy costumes and underwear, but thanks to it being the sixties the underwear is pretty substantial. There’s also the weird imbalance that the patrons should, and mostly do, treat the girls with respect – there are clear boundaries which is oddly empowering. I’m sure there are any number of people who can write more eloquently than me and have different opinions, but I for one wasn’t bothered on either a prudish or a feminist point of view. I’m not saying watch it with your grandmother…

I was impressed at the show. It’s bright and colourful – the design and detail of the period were detailed, the writing snappy and funny, the collection of characters engaging, and the plots and relationships interesting. The whole thing was held together with some beautiful direction, charismatic acting, slick pacing and great music. I could do without the Hugh Hefner voice-over which added a layer of triteness and obviousness that really wasn’t necessary, but that was my only real quibble with the whole thing. I really enjoyed the pilot and will definitely be back for more.

Other reviews
TV Fanatic – Once the show has found its footing, it can take on the world. But let’s explore the Bunnies more first… The series must prove that it has more to offer than sex and then it can dig into the politics of the generation. All in good time.

CliqueClack – If The Playboy Club is to succeed, it will be because they expand the focus on the secondary characters. The hints to some of those stories are there, but I think they could have done a considerably better job introducing those ideas in the first hour. More of these … and I think the narrative will be more complete.

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  1. May 14th, 2012
  2. September 4th, 2012
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