People complained about The Playboy Club because it seemingly glorified female exploitation. But, my biggest complaint surrounds the LACK of female exploitation. Come on, it’s a show about a 1960s male supper club with waitresses in swimsuits, but only ONE guy is disrespectful? REALLY?! The show bored me because they made the club look like a magical fantasy land where women escaped the realities of their lives with Hugh Hefner as an equal opportunity employer. Outside a couple moments, including the assault, no one really disrespected the bunnies (including the chocolate bunny Brenda, Naturi Naughton) and the bunny matron Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti) always trumped the club manager Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz).
I understood why people complained. The show wasn’t realistic about Playboy or the 1960s. So, I decided to look at Gloria Steinem’s 1963 “I was a Playboy bunny,” the 1968 Playboy Manual, and tales from bunnies who worked in the Chicago club in 1971 as well as New Orleans in 1973. A lot of what happened in the show happened in reality. The working bunnies were racially diverse and a lot of women looked at it as a fun, exciting diversion. But, NBC also cut out the seedier parts.
If the show wants to improve, it needs to stop making the Playboy Club a magical hideaway. It shouldn’t be afraid to show more sexism, make the bunnies less wide-eyed, and show more behind-the-scenes reality. Right now, looking at the club through rose-colored glasses and fobbing the sexist decisions onto Carol-Lynne is too easy an out. If they want to make the show more interesting, I suggest they borrow from Steinem’s piece to show the good AND the bad.
- Show more unfairness from Playboy club. The bunnies paid for costume upkeep (2.50/day), their stockings, and makeup (eyelashes, rouge, and lipstick) from Playboy-affiliated makeup experts. The demerit system charged them for eating in rooms, not going to the Playboy physician or missing photo opportunities. Also, it took 50% of their first 30 dollars in tips. Stop making Hef the hero. The Playboy club sanitized and glamorized the Vegas cocktail waitress model. But, the model remained underneath. They shouldn’t fear showing playboy’s practices WITHOUT making Carol-Lynne the heavy.
- Make the manager more of a douche. They received demerits for calling the director by his first name or disobeying his commands. Let’s see more of that with Billy Rosen!
- Show more of a dichotomy between key holders and Playboy’s rules. The manual discouraged bunnies from dating key holders or giving their last names. But Steinem reveals that some women were hassled if they didn’t date #1 key holders. They’re on the right track with Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), but they can do more.
- Show more patron problems. The women had difficulty with club attendees pulling their tails or propositioning them. A taxi driver propositioned Steinem with four dollars. At high capacity, the cloak room was closed to female patrons (but, never to men). Sometimes, female attendees harassed their waitresses. Although the club encouraged bunny safety, the mobster wasn’t a one-off. Don’t pretend it was.
- Let the women complain about their costumes. Come on, someone tells you your corset will be tighter, your briefs higher and you squeal with delight? That scene felt totally unrealistic. Steinem experienced numbness and the club fined women for wearing heels lower than three inches. It’s OK if the women admit to having corns or occasional fainting problems.
- Show the behind the scenes acts. The pilot featured Ike and Tina Turner without any backstage scenes hinting at their relationship. I find it hard to believe people never saw hints back in the day. That was a plum opportunity TPBC passed up. If they want good TV, they shouldn’t gloss over the real world history of Playboy’s acts.
- Give them lives outside the club. Setting 80% of the show in the club is boring and monotonous. If Maureen (Amber Heard) wants to become a dancer, why isn’t she going out on auditions during the day? Some women were wise to the bunny enterprise, why aren’t there more jaded characters? Right now, having female characters that are 100%-bunny dedicated (excluding the “married” waitress) seems unrealistic. Let’s have more variety!
Right now the show only shows 20% bad stuff, and it could amp that up to 30-40%. They need to stop appealing to the happy hooker syndrome (where your lady of the night isn’t abused, jaded and finds you highly attractive). It’s boring. The tension comes from stock stereotypes and not reality. At the end of the day, either Carol-Lynne will fire bunny Maureen or the mob will kill her.
In the interim, I need more tension to keep me going. We feminists aren’t lobbying against unfairness, we’re lobbying for good TV. Hopefully, the writers stop castrating themselves and get more balls to write the 1960s as they were.
Photo Credit: NBC