Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next season’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…
The Show: The Playboy Club, NBC
The Premise: Like ABC’s Pan Am, Playboy Club is set in a workplace that sells sexiness. Like Pan Am, it’s set in 1963. (I assume both shows will have their Kennedy assassination episodes the same sweeps week in November.) Playboy’s locale is, well, you can read the title: The Chicago branch of the club, “a place in the toddling town,” says a narrator playing Hugh Hefner, “where everything was perfect. Where life was magic. Where the rules were broken and fantasies became realities.” Also, as we see early in the pilot, a place where a new bunny accidentally kills a mobster by stomping her stiletto heel through his ear after he tries to rape her. Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) turns for help to Nick (Eddie Cibrian), a lawyer and regular client whose connections could get her out of trouble, or get them both in deep. Meanwhile, bunnies jockey for supremacy and nurse dreams of fame. And, you know, boobs.
First Impressions: I could just give you Mrs. Tuned In’s reactions, which I transcribed in the opening minutes, through the stiletto scene: “Really?… REALLY? Oh, my God.” But I need to be more charitable. As I say up top, this like all other fall screeners is a preliminary pilot. Some of the things that bothered me–corny dialogue, an outlandish crime plot, Cibrian’s performance (he seems to have prepped by looking at still photos of Jon Hamm)–could potentially be fixed, or worked out in later episodes. For now, I’ll wonder about one basic structural concern. Given that the show relies on using an extant company’s brand (unlike Pan Am), and even uses a living figure, Hef, as a narrator (played by an actor, seen from behind a la Seinfeld’s George Steinbrenner), how blunt and independent can it be in portraying Playboy’s business and ethos? (I had my issues with Pan Am’s busy pilot, but so far it seems to have stronger ideas and greater potential.) There’s actually an excellent idea for a series here–one that probably does not need the spice of a mob-murder plot–but my biggest concern is that what could be a nuanced view of the sexual revolution could end up, well, airbrushed and retouched.
Do I Want to See Another Episode? At this point, I’d prefer to fly Pan Am.