Bunny Tamer: Does Mild ‘Playboy’ Merit Controversy?

The Playboy Club (NBC)

The Playboy Club (NBC)

No new show is more controversial than “The Playboy Club” (Premieres Monday, Sept. 19 at 10/9c on NBC). The drama has been condemned by both the Parents Television Council and Gloria Steinem for glamorizing the exploitation of women. NBC’s Salt Lake City affiliate refuses to air it. Others have claimed it’s a pale imitation of “Mad Men.” Here are the actual facts about the show based on a viewing of the complete pilot.

There Is Barely Any Sex: The Playboy name conjures up images of photoshopped, surgically altered naked centerfolds. The show is about the flagship Chicago branch of the Playboy Club, a sort of high brow Hooters in which bunnies, whose outfits resemble modest one piece bathing suits that are far less revealing than the costumes on “Dancing With the Stars” served drinks to wealthy business men. There were also live music acts. By 21st Century standards it’s G-rated. There is one brief sex scene in the show between a couple in a longterm relationship, another glimpse of a woman taking a shower, shot so that no scandalous body parts are revealed. Last week’s season premiere of “Vampire Diaries” was far more salacious. The Parents Television Council has targeted this show on the basis of its name, not its content.

Go Inside The Series With Hugh Hefner:

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It’s More Like “American Dreams” And “The Sopranos” Than “Mad Men”: The show is set in the same era as “Mad Men,” but while that show is a cerebral character study that contrasts the culture of that time with the present, “Playboy Club” is a a glossy soap that uses the 1960s setting primarily to showcase the clothes and cars of the era. The head bunny Carol Lynne (Laura Benanti) lords her position over the other bunnies in a way that is reminiscent of Joan Holloway, but otherwise the dynamics are different. The characters are working class, with dreams of money and fame, not reshaping the advertising industry. The mob, whose members frequent the club, are the major antagonists. There will also be frequent musical guests, with actors portraying the stars of the era. “The Voice’sJavier Colon is slated to appear as Ray Charles in an upcoming episode. It’s a conceit that was frequently used by NBC’s last period drama, the wholesome “American Dreams.”

Yes, A Man Is Killed By A High-Heeled Shoe: A lot of early reviews mocked the show for including a scene where Maureen (Amber Heard), the rookie bunny, fatally stabs a mobster with a high-heeled shoe. That does happen, but it’s not as bad as it sounds in context. Maureen is fighting off a sexual assault. In the melee, her stiletto ends up penetrating his temple.  The scene was apparently inspired by a real life incident. The death is the set up for a longterm arc about Maureen and Nick (Eddie Cibrian) covering up the crime.

It Glamorizes Playboy, But Not The Way That You Think: Hugh Hefner narrates the show. His involvement means this is hardly an objective look at the Playboy empire. The show presents Hefner as a great, benevolent leader. Working at the Playboy club was the best career opportunity available to a woman of that era. There was no racial discrimination at the Playboy clubs. Why Hefner did as much to advance Civil Rights as Martin Luther King Jr.. Hefner hilariously intones in his closing monologue intones that the bunnies “were some of the only women in the world who could be whoever they wanted to be,” as Tina Turner sings. Most would agree that Turner was the one who was living the dream.

Eddie Cibrian Is More Peter Florek Than Don Draper: A lot of reviews have compared Cibrian’s character, a suave lawyer who dates the head bunny and seems to know everyone and everything, to “Mad Men’s” Don Draper. Actually, he has far more in common with another popular television character, “The Good Wife’s” Peter Florek (Chris Noth). Both are attorneys with connections to shady characters. Both are womanizers. Both aspire to be the State’s Attorney. Maybe the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has embarked on a fiendishly clever stealth marketing campaign to convince everyone that being an Illinois State’s Attorney is the coolest job ever.

“The Playboy Club” premieres Monday, Sept. 19 at 10/9c on NBC.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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