Fall TV Preview

Fall TV First Impression: The Bare Facts About The Playboy Club

The broadcast networks have more than 30 shows debuting this fall, including Charlie’s reborn Angels, homecomings for Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rachel Bilson, two series set in the ’60s, and one case of bolder time travel — to the days of dinosaurs. To help you prep for fall, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. First up…

THE SHOW | NBC’s The Playboy Club (airing Mondays at 10/9c)

THE COMPETITION | ABC’s Castle and CBS’ Hawaii Five-0

THE CAST | Eddie Cibrian (CSI: Miami), Amber Heard (Hidden Palms), Laura Benanti (Eli Stone), David Krumholtz (Numb3rs), Jenna Dewan Tatum (Melrose Place), Naturi Naughton (who, fun fact, played a Playboy Bunny on Mad Men), Leah Renee (Blue Mountain State) and Wes Ramsey (CSI: Miami)

THE SET-UP | It’s the ’60s, and Maureen (played by Heard) is a newbie bunny at Chicago’s Playboy Club. After a run-in with a mobster, Maureen gets a helping hand from high-powered attorney/club regular Nick Dalton (Cibrian) — and that does not go over well with Nick’s steady (Benanti). Krumholtz is the club’s manager, Tatum, Naughton and Renee play other Bunnies, and Ramsey is a barkeep dating one tail-wiggler.

THE GOOD | The show does a decent job of evoking its retro era, though not as winningly as ABC’s Pan Am, let alone standard-setter Mad Men. (In voiceover, Hugh Hefner calls the club “a place where anything can happen to anybody — or any Bunny.”) Benanti steals every scene she is in, playing the very first (and thus entitled) Bunny. Heard fits into her role best once the “Gee-whiz” veneer fades and her shady past is hinted at. Shed of his Numb3rs locks, Krumholtz is almost unrecognizable, but sadly isn’t given much to do in the pilot. The hour ends with a neat twist.

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | Cibrian gives us his best dapper Don Draper, but the role screams for volatility as much as handsomeness. Hopefully — versus most every TV role he has inhabited — he can “danger it up” a bit and convince us this legal eagle runs with a rough crowd. The club itself is a bit claustrophobic; I trust that storylines will take the action beyond its walls.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | It’s going to take more than Bunny costumes cut higher on the thigh to distract folks from the established Castle and Five-0. That said, for NBC this is a far buzzier Monday closer option than Harry’s Law. P.S. to the PTC and SLC: Not much to fret about here, outside of one blink-and-you-missed-it hook-up in the loo.

Watch a video preview for The Playboy Club, then vote in our poll below.