Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TV PILOT REVIEW: NBC's "The Playboy Club"

When this series was first announced, there was concern over how the producers intended on handling the delicate topic of the porn industry. How could they show the story of the classiest business built on the bosoms of babes without showing nudity? And if they had no intentions of showing any, then how would they get both men and women to watch?

This new NBC series actually resembles ABC's "Pan Am," in that it also shows one of history's most coveted and innuendo-drenched female professions, shrouded in intrigue. If you flip through a history book, you'll see Playboy bunnies dressed in satin leotards and nylons, and suited-up stewardesses serving with a smile. But these characters are not plastic recreations of pre-feminist prototypes. These women have dimension.

Amber Heard (Drive Angry 3D) plays the newest bunny Maureen at the notoriously exclusive Playboy Club. She's an orphan who's come to town to reinvent herself and become a star. Her light shines so brightly that she catches the attention of the aspiring State Attorney Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) and his former employer, mob boss Bruno Bianchi, who hides in plain sight as a legit businessman known as Clyde Hill. When the mafia king follows her into the supply closet and gropes her tail, Nick pulls him off of her, and she kicks him so hard that she shoves her stiletto into his chest. Without skipping a beat, Nick wraps the body in a carpet and dumps him in a river. Before that night ever happened, very few people in town knew what the boss looked like, and after that night, only two knew what he looked like dead.

These two are now bound by a secret—his political aspirations and her life depend on keeping it. While there's a thin layer of trust between them, there's a thick layer of attraction. It's too bad Nick's already taken by the self-appointed head bunny Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti from Take the Lead), who pushed her way to the top. She's not only the first bunny, the one who set the mold and fine-tuned the rules, but she's also owner Hugh Hefner's favorite, which is unfortunate for the club's manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz from "Numb3rs"). He's a fast-talking, strict businessman, sporting the thickest Chicago accent of the bunch, who says lines like, "Smart? Who needs smart? You're the only man I know who puts his hand up a girl's skirt...looking for a dictionary." He stands in the way of Carol-Lynne's plans. Going head-to-head with him and taking her jealousy out on Maureen, by pretending to care about making her a better bunny only to openly criticize her more, is only half the battle. The other half will be staying alive. There's so much backstabbing and hidden secrets in this series, it's a hotbed for framing and betrayal.

The drama doesn't end there though. The writers do well to pepper in a few "lighter" stories, like Brenda's (Naturi Naughton from Lottery Ticket) dream to be the first Black Bunny on the cover, Janie's (Jenna Dewan-Tatum from Step Up) trouble maintaining a relationship while men proposition her in front of her beau, and most interestingly, Alice's (Leah Renee Cudmore from "Runaway") funding of a secret gay club with her gay husband.

Trying to live up to the historical accuracy while incorporating suspenseful and interesting storylines like "Mad Men" does is risky. The comparisons are bound to happen, and with the years and the viewers behind it, "Mad Men" will always be ahead. It's only real advantage is that "Mad Men" just started retelling the history of the 60s. This series has the opportunity to show a different, more chaotic, revolutionary, freethinking time in America. With "Mad Men," time stands still as they are in a period of passivity. Now we get to see some action. With any luck, it'll progress into a glossier "Boardwalk Empire." Because if there's anything we've learned about history through that HBO series, it's that men aren't the only ones who'll do what it takes to survive.

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