My colleague Ken Tucker has referred to The Playboy Club as “the least sexy new show of the fall season,” and I’ll give him that. We’ve seen Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus wear as little onstage as these Bunnies, so the heaving bosoms blend into the background. The men in the club are, so far, portrayed as chauvinists who either want to buy a Bunny for the night or to marry her and knock her up so no one else will want what is his. By the end of the hour, we got a hint of longing with a new rule that Bunnies can’t date keyholders and a staged back alley kiss between Cigarette Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) and lawyer Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), the knight in shining ’60s-wear who helped her cover up her murder (in self-defense) of his former mob boss.
But the reason I actually liked The Playboy Club more than I thought I would is because it isn’t just trying to sell sex. It’s a story about secrets, and how even women wearing next to nothing can be hiding something. At least that’s the direction I hope we’re headed.
First thing you should know: Don’t get attached to Hugh Hefner’s narration. It won’t continue beyond the pilot. I’m actually fine with that. I want to watch this show and not be burdened debating how I feel about the politics of Playboy in real life. Not hearing Hef’s voice will let me off the hook. This is make-believe. I can like or dislike a plot point on the show and not have it be a statement for all of womankind. If you want to take a show that stars Eddie Cibrian that seriously, feel free. I just can’t.
Second thing you should know: I don’t have a problem with Eddie Cibrian. Some people still haven’t forgiven him for falling in love with LeAnn Rimes on the set of Lifetime’s Nora Roberts adaptation Northern Lights, and to them, I say, “reread this sentence.” The important issue here is whether this is the show that will finally make Cibrian the TV star the people in Hollywood who keep casting him clearly think he is. To me, he’s actually perfect for the role of a slick, sought-after climber who’s supposed to be unreadable. He’s Ken doll handsome and Ken doll bland. I could not tell you one thing about Eddie Cibrian’s personality, which means I don’t have any preconceived notions about whether he’s a charmer or a cad coloring the character. Nick Dalton is a mystery, and I like looking at Cibrian enough to hang around until I figure him out.
So let’s dig in. You can tell by the opening shot – a superhero movie pan down from colorless Chicago skyscrapers to the Mondrian-esque facade of the Playboy Club – that you step inside that door and out of reality. There’s Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), the first-ever Bunny, performing onstage as Cigarette Bunny Maureen put down her tray and danced with a man who got a little too handsy. She gracefully passed herself off to the next gentleman (and the next one), but she offended the first guy enough that he followed her to the backroom when she went to get Nick his brand of cigarettes. Luckily, when she didn’t return in a timely manner, Nick went looking for her and stopped the man from raping her as Carol-Lynne sang “Sha Boom.” This life is not a dream, it turns out: The guy escaped Nick’s hold, and instead of bolting, charged back at Maureen, who, in the best use of a stiletto since Single White Female, kicked him in the neck with her heel.
After that “You got a lot of opinions for a girl” line, he deserved to die. He collapsed, and Maureen told Nick she’d call the cops. He stopped her: The man she killed was known as respectable married businessman Clyde Hill, but he’s actually mob boss Bruno Bianchi. If they both wanted to live, they weren’t telling anyone what had happened. She wiped the blood on her Bunny costume – how did she explain that, exactly? – and stuck his key to the club down her cleavage (instead of handing it to Nick like she would have done if she was as smart as we’re supposed to think she is). They put the body in the trunk of his car, then dumped it in the water.
NEXT: This week’s Showgirls reference