Before the first cottontail and corset make appearances onscreen, “The Playboy Club” is stirring up controversy. Taking place at the Chicago home base of the infamous 1960s nightclub chain, the new NBC drama is being criticized for glorifying an institution that objectifies women.
“These girls are using so much more than [their bodies],” says actress Naturi Naughton, who likes to refer to her character, Brenda, as a “chocolate Bunny.” “I mean, it’s empowering because these girls are smart, they’re going to school, they’re buying homes … things that women weren’t able do at that time. [They’re] using their resources and relying on themselves.”
In truth, the iconic Bunny costumes are rather tame by today’s standards, and are the most visually risque thing you’ll see in the pilot. But in that first hour, brand new Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard), who captures the eye of every man in the club, finds herself in a dire situation that only “the ultimate playboy,” attorney Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), can rescue her from.
“Don’t underestimate that character and her intelligence,” Heard insists. “I think Maureen allows herself to be helped when she needs it. She by no means relies on any character, male or female, in this story — and never has.”
What the series relies on is audiences buying into the escapism these clubs provided, 50 years after the fact. But nostalgia is a powerful drug.
“This is a world where you come to enjoy the music. You walk in. You feel like you’re in this fantasy, and that’s what it was,” says Naughton. “It’s like Disney World for adults, which is one of the phrases that was used. And at the end of the day, there is no Disney World without the characters and without the people [and] the roller coasters, and without all the fun things that you come for.”
As long as audiences are willing to buy a ticket and take the ride.