'The Playboy Club' review: If you don't swing, don't ring
"The Playboy Club" is kind of "American Dreams" for grown-ups. It lacks the gravity of period predecessor "Mad Men," but that's OK, for now. We certainly liked it more than we thought we would.
Amber Heard is Maureen (born Phyllis), our main bunny at the club - a Marilyn-type smalltown girl looking to reinvent herself in the big city. Surrounding her are nice bunny Alice ( Leah Cudmore), sassy bunny Brenda ( Naturi Naughton) and sexy, secretive bunny Janie ( Jenna Dewan-Tatum). Presiding over the bunnies are David Krumholtz as Playboy Club manager Billy Rosen, Laura Benanti as the bunny-turned-house-mother Carol-Lynne and Eddie Cibrian as the dashing Nick Dalton, a successful attorney who frequents the club.
Ambition is the name of the game for the characters. Maureen aspires to perform, Brenda aspires to be the "first chocolate centerfold," Alice and her husband aspire to, well, we won't spoil it, but we didn't see it coming. And dashing Nick Dalton has political aspirations and old mob ties.
The show kicks off with what looks like an accidental death - Maureen is attacked in the store room by Clyde Hill, a member of the Bianchi crime family. She defends herself and he winds up dead. In swoops dashing Nick Dalton to take care of everything.
But it quickly turns into a bit of a murder mystery, as there is an interesting twist regarding the identify of the victim and just what dashing Nick Dalton did to "take care" of it.
The mystery is just about enough to have us tuning in for at least another episode or two, but when you add on the look and feel of the show, it might get even a couple more episodes on top of that. The sets, costumes and music are wonderful and give the show a great atmosphere.
Chicago as the setting is also strong. New York and Los Angeles get so much play on television, but Chicago really doesn't, even though its history and mob problems are just as intriguing.
Finally, the subject matter lends itself well to the time period. The show begins in 1963, during America's transition from the picturesque 50s to the tumultuous 60s. Exploring the sexual revolution and woman's movement within the context of a Playboy Club could prove to give the show more depth than it starts out with - a depth we get a glimpse of with Alice and her husband's storyline.
The only real criticism we had about the pilot was the Hugh Hefner character. The real Hef does voiceovers that open and close the show, which is cool. But the on-screen Hef was shown from behind, sitting at a desk - which only reminded us of George Steinbrenner on "Seinfeld." We'd like to see them go full-out and make Hef a character, much like the show is doing with the performer of the week.
Similar to "American Dreams," current stars are signing on to play stars of the period. Broadway star Jenifer Lewis takes the stage in the first episode as Tina Turner. In coming episodes, Colbie Caillat has been announced guest-starring as Lesley "It's My Party" Gore, Raphael Saadiq is taking the stage as the inimitable Sam Cooke and "The Voice" Season 1 winner Javier Colon will be stepping into the shoes of Ray Charles. With Tina Turner, that is already an enjoyable aspect of the show.
As it is, "The Playboy Club" is fun fare. The show could really take off if it chooses to not only be fun, but also explore the various frontiers the 1960s backdrop provides.
Will you enjoy it? As the bronze plaque outside the infamous Chicago Playboy mansion read, "Si non oscillas noli tintinnare" - "If you don't swing, don't ring."
"The Playboy Club" premieres Monday, Sept. 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT, following the premiere of "The Sing-Off."