McAdams On: “The Playboy Club”

CURIOUS, I.M.: I saw two episodes of “The Playboy Club.” I thought it was all right for a TV show. It wasn’t heavy lifting by any measure, but there were no televised physics lectures during the time slot. To that end, the show’s club is managed by the brilliant mathematician from “Numb3rs,” which concludes our entire case for its intellectual redemption.

“The Playboy Club” is NBC’s way of making a 1960s “Mad Men-esque” costume drama, but without the smoking. Instead, there is a cigarette girl. She is “Playboy’s” shapely blonde protagonette who takes out a lecherous club member with her stiletto. Ouch! The soon-dead Casanova turns out to be a mob boss that she and LeAnne Rimes’ husband roll up in a carpet and dump in a river. Like you do. Very soon, his mob kid is sniffing around the club looking for dad, while cigarette girl wears the dead guy’s club key in a photo shoot for the magazine cover. Who can possibly imagine where that’s going to go?

“The Playboy Club” is mostly a 1960s fashion show with a soap opera in the background. Like I said--no heavy lifting. And yet it’s been met with the kind of moralistic animus usually reserved for John Edwards. The Parents Television Council, a TV content watchdog group if there ever was one, is chasing away the show’s sponsors like a junkyard dog jacked up on Red Bull.

“We call for the network to cancel this degrading and sexualizing program immediately,” the quote I did not personally hear but that was widely attributed to PTC chief Tim Winter said. Feminist Grande Dame Gloria Steinem apparently said the show “normalizes the passive-dominant idea of gender.”

Seriously? Have you watched it? This show is stupid. That’s its worst offense. At the risk of persecution by the PTC, I wonder if sometimes the group doesn’t occasionally seize the easiest of opportunities to remind us it has weight to throw around. How hard is it to hate on “The Playboy Club,” say, if you’re an overweight housewife? There, I said it. But let’s get real, sisters. The sight of a young, fresh beauty reminds us of our long-lost spring chickenhood. And we don’t like it. That doesn’t call for wiping out images of young women in satin bodysuits. There are racier images on grocery store tabloid covers. There are racier images on the covers of women’s fitness magazines.

And “normalizing the passive dominant idea of gender?” Give me a break. The guys on this show couldn’t fight their way out of a wet sack. The first one who tries something funny gets a high heel in the jugular. You won’t see that on “Criminal Minds,” or most of the crime dramas, for that matter. No, in crime dramas, the women who aren’t sexifying the team are used as palettes upon which sadistic crazy dudes unhinge themselves. Week after week after week. Repeated ritualistic killing of males evidently does not play in Peoria. But hang a little gal from the hay hooks and you’ve got yourself an audience.

Yoohoo? PTC? Ms. Steinem? Vivisection, okey-dokey; a little skin, break out the artillery? What’s up with that? Going after “The Playboy Club” isn’t exactly bold. That show would have died on its own, unless bunnies started disappearing one by one, their bodies found drained of blood. Launching a measured and serious dialog about why bloodlust and misogyny make for such popular TV shows--that’s a step up. It doesn’t lend itself to standalone quotes and press releases quite as well, but it’s bold.

And it’s high time.
~ Deborah D. McAdams