June 7, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.
THE PLAYBOY CLUB –  Monday 10PM on NBC:  If Nothing Else Is On…

Take the era of Mad Men, mix with the millieu of Boardwalk Empire, then remove most of the brains… and that’s pretty much the formula for NBC’s THE PLAYBOY CLUB.  What remains isn’t particularly deep, but it’s a glamorous, fairly diverting piece of melodrama.

If Playboy Club feels dated even for a show set in the 1960s, it’s because really, it’s more of a slightly updated version of the backstage dramas Warner Brothers used to churn out in the 1930s and 40s. (Squint and you can see Jean Harlow, William Powell and Bette Davis in the leads.)   Set in the original Chicago Playboy Club, Chad Hodge’s script (he previously worked on The CW’s shortlived Runaway) offers hints that racial and gender issues are happening outside the confines of the club, but mostly the story is about a gorgeous small town girl–an orphan, no less– who’s come to the big city to become a star (Amber Heard), a shady lawyer who’s smitten with her but perhaps not to be trusted (Eddie Cibrian), and the slightly older showgirl who’s jealous of the girl and knows all the tricks (Laura Benanti).  This stuff may be hokey, but it’s been working in one way or another for 75 years, and throw in an accidental killing and some central casting gangsters, and it’s still got some charm. 
It helps that while Heard probably isn’t the next great Medea of the stage, she’s not just stunning but charismatic, and that Benanti, a Broadway veteran, has plenty of acting (and singing) chops; not so much that Cibrian gives what amounts to an extended Jon Hamm imitation.  The supporting cast is mostly made up of lovely young women who don’t get much to do in the pilot, plus David Krumholtz in the Jack Carson role of the club manager.  (The nostalgic voice-over narration from what seems to be the actual aged Hef doesn’t add much.)  Alan Taylor, who’s directed his share of Mad Men episodes, was behind the camera for the pilot, and the production design is sumptuous. 
Playboy Club‘s direct competitors are Castle and Hawaii 5-0 on Mondays, so it definitely brings something different to the hour (Mitch Metcalf’s Monday night analysis has it firmly in 3rd place in the slot, but that’s mostly because The Sing-Off is by far the weakest lead-in of the evening). Creatively, the show is about an inch away from being camp; everyone involved should be forced to watch the recent bomb Burlesque as an example of what not to do.  On its own terms, though, it offers unquestionable eye candy and the possibility of moderate fun.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."