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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The Upfronts: NBC

What’s out
The only show that I actually watch on NBC is Friday Night Lights and the end of the show has been planned for a while, giving plenty of time to wrap it up in a satisfying fashion. I adore the show, think it’s superb, but have to admit that I haven’t quite had the emotional strength to watch the last season yet, knowing it’s the last actually made it harder.

There are plenty of new shows that won’t be back, most of which never got off the ground at all – The Cape, Chase, The Event, Law & Order LA (which couldn’t be rescued even by a complete overhaul mid-season), Undercovers, and several sitcoms. Not a good year for NBC.

What’s back
Chuck has been renewed for a final half season wrap up, for a show that’s been bubbling since it started, 5.5 seasons seems like a bloody good run. But I don’t watch it so I can’t really say.

Harry’s Law is one that I wanted to like, but the more I thought about it, the more troubling I found the tone of the pilot. I may investigate whether it got better and go back to it as it will be returning next year, slightly surprising given that I haven’t heard any critic say anything about it in months and the ratings weren’t spectacular.

Parenthood is a show I keep meaning to catch up on, initially staying away from it because I didn’t want to fall in love with it as it seemed doomed to early cancellation. Now that’s just been renewed for season 3 so I guess that excuse has worn out.

Other things I don’t watch that are returning – 30 Rock, Community, The Office, Parks and Recreation and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, although there seems to be the suggestion that they might be making big cast changes (if anyone reading this cares).

What’s new
Awake – Hello to Jason Issacs! You seem to have landed yourself a pretty amazing looking show.

Bent – I like Amanda Peet and the rest of the thing isn’t horrific, although it all looks a bit unremarkable.

Grimm – Kind of Supernatural meets Criminal Minds from the looks of it, sounds interesting, but I wasn’t massively impressed with the trailer.

The Playboy Club – 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. The trailer leaves me optimistic.

Prime Suspect – I’ve not watched the UK version, but this doesn’t look like Helen Mirren. I like Maria Bello a lot and this doesn’t look half bad.

Smash – Hey, Glee is massively successful right, why don’t we do a show about musicals?! Frankly I’m amazed that every network isn’t belting out show tunes at me. This looked… all right, not sure how they’re going to make it a series rather than just a tv movie though.

Up All Night – I actually chuckled a couple of times at this!

Free Agents – Damnit, I chuckled a couple of times in this one too. I hate myself.

Whitney – I did not laugh. I feel better about myself.

Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea – dear god in heaven, this is possibly the most offensive and horrific thing I’ve ever seen labelled as a comedy. Drinking and driving… so funny!

Also a TV adaptation of The Firm (coming next Jan, so there’s no trailer for me to label as boring yet) and something called Best Friends Forever which seemed awful from the only clip I could find.

Links: The TV Addict, The Futon Critic, TV Squad.