True Retro Lovers, you’re in for a let down.
Now, those of you who read Tiki Lounge Talk regularly know that I don’t usually review a movie or TV show. I generally just present stuff I really dig, hoping you’ll dig it too. I know I sound like I’m slamming this show…in fact, I sort of enjoyed it, and will continue watching it (unless it gets really bad). I’m just disappointed that NBC went all through the trouble of doing a show set in the 1960s and completely missed the point of doing a show set in the 1960s. It’s the ambiance, the over-all look, feel and texture of Mad Men’s style that roped us in to Mad Men. The writing and unorthodox story telling keeps us coming back. Rehashing a good old “oops I killed the gangster, uh oh” plot just doesn’t cut it for me.
Last night “The Playboy Club” pilot (Mondays, 10/9c) aired on NBC, beating “Pan Am” to the punch for retro-style prime-time drama du jour. Both of these shows have been created to play off the popularity of “Mad Men” (a couple of years late), but from the opening scene of The Playboy Club it was obvious: This ain’t no Mad Men, baby.
Stylized shots of hot 1960s chicks in bunny costumes, a ’59 Buick, thin ties and mood lighting were spliced together to give us the look and feel of the era…but in typical “old three” network fashion, the plot very quickly deteriorated from what should have been a great slice-of-life drama of the every-day perils of working at The Playboy Club…to…drumroll please…a murder-driven plot, following the same worn-out formula that’s burdened networks like NBC for 50 years.
CSI: BUNNY CLUB
No spoilers…The previews did that for us.
From the previews everyone knows someone important gets accidentally murdered in the first five minutes of the story, and the bunny who does it (played by the beautiful Amber Heard), along with a smooth-talking lawyer (played by Eddie Cibrian) – who is interested in more than just her cotton tail – decide to hide the body and pretend like nothing every happened, ya dig? I ain’t kidding. No Mad Men realism here, kids. No subtle plot points to ponder and dissect later in the evening. She just hauls off and kills the guy by kicking him in the throat with her stiletto (curious lack of blood, by the way). The ‘victim’ turns out to be a gangster “who was askin’ for it”. Although there were not witnesses, predictable hoods assume the blonde bunny had something to do with his disappearance “because they saws her dancin’ wit him”. Ok, I may be exaggerating the accent a little. Anyway by the end of the episode it’s all about the murder, the gangsters and the bunny trying to cover up the killing, and has very little to do with the Bunny Club. Of course this murderous plot-line is briefly interrupted by naked people having sex in the bathroom (naked for no apparent reason, I mean, it’s a bathroom), some kool stuff about civil rights, and a scene where the chick goes OUTSIDE to the alley…to smoke. Uh, yeah.
Music for Modern Mindless
The show opens with a Bunny on stage, singing “Chicago” in a way that sounds much more like a Pussycat Dolls rendition than anything a 1963-ish songbird would ever tweet. It rolls into a version of Shaboom Shaboom that sounds even more up-to-date and hip-hoppy, destroying any 1960s feel that may have been conjured in the opening. When the song ends, the background music sounds exactly like they ripped it from Law and Order.
Hey, Look At Me, I’m A Character!
They don’t leave anything to chance with this show. Like most network shows, every character hits you over the head with their specifics before the second commercial break can air. As a friend of mine said, the lawyer seems to be doing his best Jon Hamm impression…to the point that listening to him speak while not watching, I’d swear Don Draper was making a guest appearance on the show. However, where Don Draper is smooth, mature and always in subtle control, this character seems to bounce between the slick Chicago lawyer and a somewhat cocky frat boy. As for the blonde bunny, she’s doing the best she can with what she’s got…it’s not easy to establish a character when you start out being freaked out by killing a man with your shoe just because he felt you up.
Again, don’t get me wrong, the acting is pretty good. Just not Mad Men good. You hip? Good.
Quick, Somebody Give Me A Plot Idea…Murder A Gangster? I’m In.
Have you noticed how Mad Men ran for four seasons without a single murder mystery? Or even an unsolved robbery. Sure there were mysteries…Don’s past, Pete’s true character, Don’s brother, etc. But not one murder. Here’s how I’m guessing The Playboy Club started out, and how it evolved:
The Idea Man: Banking off of Mad Men, we do a show all about The Playboy Club in the 1960s, how the girls were treated, why the men went there, how the Playboy empire evolved, with all the great, secret stories that came out of the era. Stories of civil rights. Stories of sugar daddys. Stories of Hef himself. Stories of sleazy swinger parties with Don Rickles and Doris Day. Stuff like that.
Producer: I love it just the way it is! (By the way, we need to sell advertising.) Jello is in, but they want to make sure it appeals to a wider audience than Mad Men, so it can’t be all young girls with huge racks and shots of the mid-century modern furniture. Throw in a chick in her late 30s or 40s that’s still a hot looking bunny, to appeal to the people who watch Desperate Housewives. Tell her to act like that busty redhead on Mad Men. You know, like an office manager, for bunnies.
Executive Producer: Perfect show! Don’t change a thing! But just for the hell of it, consider this: our marketing department tells us people like murder mysteries! Isn’t that interesting? Murder and sex. But not too much sex. Throw in a murder mystery and we’re golden. And show some flesh, for Christ’s sake. Oh, wait, speaking of Jesus…I just remembered, we want to appeal to the moral majority segment too, so if anyone is having sex out of wedlock, make sure the guy proposes marriage to the girl while he’s doing her up against a public restroom sink, while they are both completely naked. That will seem realistic, right? And add some gangsters. People like Chicago gangsters.
Director: This show is perfect! But it needs something…I know, a more modern edge! Let’s have the old bunny broad sing some songs like the Pussycat Dolls do. That will appeal to both the Desperate Housewives market AND the 90210 crowd! Action!
Writer: I quit.
Sponsors: We love it! Tell our ad agency to place six commercials (use the same one over and over again, people like that) throughout those little empty spaces between the acts. Oh, and can you make it more about the gangsters and that hot blonde, and less about the club and the era? My 12 year old daughter says that gets dull, and she knows TV better than anyone else.
Final editing: When no one’s looking, we’re putting the stuff about the gays and the black bunny back in. Don’t tell the producer. Emmy, here we come!
And there you have it. A show that probably started out 100 proof got watered-down until it was just wishy-washy enough to air at prime time on a major network like NBC without offending anyone too much. Yet, it still has enough kick to keep it interesting…at least enough to watch the next episode.
Spoilers in next week’s trailer: Dammit. They gave away three answers to what little real mystery they came up with in the “scenes from next week”. Don’t they know they’re supposed to just show split second, one or two word clips edited out of order to create a sense of “what the hell was that”?
What I Would Do Differently, As A Professional Theatrical Producer
Everybody has an opinion. I, being a former director, writer and producer (of theatrical murder mysteries) of course have my own opinions on the direction this show should have taken. Like you, I’d want to see much more of the actual inner workings of the Playboy Club as it was in the day. How did they pick the girls? Was there an audition process? Was it legal to fire them if they gained weight? What about the stars that came to the club? Or the infamous parties at the Playboy Mansion? They talked about a party, but where the hell was it? They only showed a few seconds of people dancing. Wasn’t there an indoor pool in the Playboy Mansion where bunnies swam naked? Were the bunnies really off-limits to guests, or were they banging every high-roller that came through the door? How much did a membership cost? How was it viewed by the general public?
I would completely ditch the whole murder/gangster idea and focus on the blonde’s character. Make her as interesting as Don Draper, with a mysterious past (in a different way than his, of course). Maybe even have her be an undercover reporter, doing an exposé on the women of the club, and how they operated. And I would definitely give the manager of the Chicago Playboy Club a better car to drive than a four-year old Buick. He would be driving a Cadillac, or an Imperial, if anything. Probably a coupe or a convertible, definitely black with leather seats. Not a Buick sedan. His wife could have a Colony Park station wagon to drag the brats around in. One with those ugly plaid seat covers you used to buy at Sears, where she’d get all the kids’ toys because she would be too cheap to go to FAO Schwartz. Woah…How’s that for going off on a tangent? Ok, so I’d make the lawyer guy a heroin addict or something, and the “old” bunny would turn out to be a tranny. Ok, maybe not. It’s getting late and I’ve had a few drinks.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a cool, sleek, stylized show like Mad Men, The Playboy Club will be very disappointing. If you’re looking for a prime-time show with pretty girls and plot that you can follow even if you miss 20 minutes in the middle of the show while you make frozen daiquiris and those little hotdogs in puff pastries for your guests, the show is fine.
Hopefully Pan Am will be a little more our style.
-Tiki Chris reporting from the TV lounge at Pirate’s Cove Tiki Bar, Fort Lauderdale, FLA