It may have been far from the best pilot this Fall, but the corseted and cotton-tailed gals from The Playboy Club had potential to prove that although "real", historical accuracy isn't always as fun. As the first cancellation of the season strikes fear into the hearts of low-rated newbies across the network landscape, it's time for a rebuttal.
Let me make a few things perfectly clear: One, The Playboy Club was no masterpiece. By any stretch of the imagination. Two, I've only watched the pilot (which was later re-tooled for air). And lastly, it was quite a gamble. Yet, I sit before you ready to defend one of the most critically derided series of the season. Why? Because someone has to.
Despite the writing on the wall, I was shocked yesterday morning to learn that NBC chose to give the bunnies the ax. Sure, the after-school-club known as the Parents Television Council came down hard, long before the series had even premiered. And not many would argue that Eddie Cibrian is basically a piece of lumber with dimples. But since when does Murphy's Law not apply to television? I ask this, quite simply, because there are some worse offenders that are still on the air. Hell, Whitney even got picked up for a full season somehow.
One of the biggest complaints attached to the now short-lived series was that it glamorized the life of a Bunny, painting a much rosier picture than the 60s reality that inspired it. Mind that word there. Inspired. Aside from the creaky voiceover from Hugh Hefner and the inclusion of (fake) Tina Turner, no one on this show was a person who lived. The Playboy Club never purported to be a real-life glimpse into the world of the Chicago institution. It's an NBC drama, for peacock's sake!
I truly feel for whichever producer first used the word "liberated" in describing the show's premise. That was likely the end of the road, right there. Just so we're all on the same page: Bunnies weren't feminists. I'm not naive. Gloria Steinem was a feminist. She was also a Bunny - but she only did it to bitch about it later. Don't get me wrong - her story needed to be told at that time, without a doubt. But did her voice really have a place here in 2011, when it came to this show? I don't think anyone was harboring any delusions that Bunnies could "be whoever they wanted to be". All Ms. Steinem did by rehashing her original complaints was rain on a parade of fantasy. Again - this wasn't supposed to be a documentary. It's not like a bunch of teenage girls (not the series' demographic in the first place) would watch and decide to jump in their time machines to enlist in Heff's Army. So what's the harm in some escapism?
I personally don't feel that the Mad Men model - though slightly at work here, given the era - should be limited to just one series. There are stories to be told that Mad Men will never tell, and rightfully so. It doesn't represent the whole of the 60s, it's a slice of it. And The Playboy Club was to have been a different slice. The comparisons were inevitable from the show's conception, as well as to its ABC period-counterpart Pan Am. There's obviously an allure to the glamour of this decade...why should one show have all the fun?
Last but not least, the loss of TPC is also a loss of not one but two gay characters on television. We'll never see the journey of Closeted Lesbian Bunny and her also closeted gay husband (recently out actor Sean Maher!) in the Mattachine Society, one of the very first gay organizations. With Trevor Donovan's Teddy sidelined with a guest starring role on this season of 90210, it would have been nice to see some additional homos on the airwaves. If nothing else, kudos to NBC for including such a surprising subplot.
Bottom Line: It may not have been a very good show, but it was one hell of a concept. Made sufficiently campy, The Playboy Club could have had a lot of colorful, soapy fun. Instead, it got saddled with sub-par actors and a lot of pointless controversy. Coulda woulda shoulda...