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TV Tonight: 2 Broke Girls, Playboy Club

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Tonight brings the debuts of two network premieres, CBS’s 2 Broke Girls and NBC’s The Playboy Club, which I covered in my roundup in this week’s TIME of series focusing on female characters. It’s a busy season, and neither pilot has changed from their original versions in ways that would significantly shake my preview Test Pilot assessments, so I’ll direct you to those for my initial impressions of Broke Girls and Playboy.

In the case of Broke Girls, CBS seems to have pretty much stuck with the original pilot, which leaves the show (appropriately for a waitress-com) on the knife’s edge for me: it was half appealing, with strong chemistry between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, and half awful, with some egregiously clunky one-liners and borderline (or over the border) offensive ethnic caricatures. And I haven’t seen a second episode, so I’ll cross my fingers and see how it goes.

The Playboy pilot, on the other hand, has been changed. Just not for the better.

Not for the worse exactly, either. What was one of the worst drama pilots of the fall is now one of the worst for slightly, superficially different reasons. In a central, laughable scene in the original, new Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard) kills a mobster while fighting off an attempted rape by accidentally jamming her stiletto heel into his ear. In the new version, she intentionally jams her stiletto heel into his neck. Because apparently that’s more empowering to women. On the other hand, in the new version Heard has male co-star Eddie Cibrian help her fight off the gangster.

(Before you describe this all as male fantasy, by the way, this show—like ABC’s better but comparable Pan Am—are most likely conceived for a largely female audience, if the producers know anything about their business. If they were aimed at men, they wouldn’t be about PG-13 sex and retro costumes; they’d be robot auction hunters on Alaskan crab ships, or something like that.)

Many of the revisions and additions in the for-air version of the pilot have to do with the mob murder, its coverup, and the connections of Cibrian’s Nick Dalton—a do-good civil rights attorney who got enmeshed with the Chicago mob for business reasons—to the underworld. The pilot ups the pressure on Cibrian’s character by showing us the Mob trying to influence him in a racial-rights case, thus establishing his good-guy bona fides. What hasn’t changed is that watching Cibrian perform is like watching a stop-motion version of Mad Men shot using a plastic Jon Hamm action figure; the showy corniness of the dialogue (“You couldn’t be a victim if you tried.” “Oh, I could be anything for real diamonds”); and the general bogusness of the show’s nostalgic picture of the “glamorousness” of selling sexuality in Hugh Hefner’s business in the early ’60s.

I’ve said it before, but this is one of those cases where if you want to explain a TV failure, you gotta follow the money. In this case, NBC is making a show with the co-operation of an existing business—it even uses Playboy’s logo in the titles—which has a clear interest in protecting its image. (The current cover of the magazine promotes the NBC show, naturally.)

I suspect that using the actual Playboy brand is the original sin of a show based in a theoretically strong premise, from which by definition it can’t recover. ABC’s Pan Am (next Sunday) has its own rose-colored rear-view glasses. But—portraying an airline that no longer exists—it can at least balance its picture of a more “gracious” time in the sexy-service industry with the acknowledgement that stewardesses had to stay single, wear girdles and retire at 32.

Good luck getting Playboy Club to work in Gloria Steinem’s undercover report of Bunnies having to take STD tests. The show even includes an idealized dramatic portrayal of Hugh Hefner—in smoking jacket and shot from behind a la George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld—whose character does the pilot’s aggrandizing voiceover. I am a college-educated writer and a journalist for a respected newsmagazine, and therefore it is not my habit to use the word “barf” as a critical assessment, but let me just quote my actual original notes on the “Hef” monologue verbatim:

“The world was changing, and we were the ones changing it–one Bunny at a time… It was the early ’60s, and the Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anyone they wanted to be.” BARF “So come on in. You can be anyone you want to be. But like it says on the door, if you don’t swing–don’t ring.” BARFBARFBARF

As with my post about H8R last week, I suspect that this may only drive you to watch Playboy Club simply to see it all for yourself. I can’t stop you if you’re a consenting adult, but I beg you to use protection. Keep your remote within arm’s reach at all times.