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RIP "The Playboy Club" (Sept 2011- Oct 2011)

The peacock network brings us the TV season's first cancellation. And whaddya know? It's their new show with the brightest plumage, "The Playboy Club". I've been soaking up the general response to this show and "Pan Am" with some interest since they're the two shows that Mad Men spawned, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and the most flattering form of theft.

It's unkind to speak ill of the dead so I want to thank The Playboy Club for shining such a bright spotlight on Broadway babe Laura Benanti as she sang onstage and bitched backstage. She was the show's indisputable MVP for its very short run so some other series would be smart to snatch her up. I normally don't wish "series regular" status on Broadway's headlining musical stars because it makes them vanish from the stage but my friends and I have held a comic grudge against Benanti for years since it took us four times of paying for her shows to actually see her perform. Maybe we had terrible luck but... well, let's just say it seems like her understudies go on... A LOT.

[Updated Editor's Note: There's a reasonable explanation in reader comments as to why Benanti was absent from shows so much in the Aughts. Terrible injury.]

Though Pan Am is appreciably better as reviews suggested, the emphatically polarized 'two thumbs up/all thumbs down' greeting is something I couldn't really get behind as they have/had some of the same strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: Great, sexy, and showy choice of milieu in that it's a potentially fine breeding ground for multiple stories and visual pizazz, a sassy leading brunette that's fun to watch (Laura Benanti / Christina Ricci), and super attractive men in suits.
Weaknesses: Period setting plays all cosmetic with no soul, depth, or nuance (don't get me started on the dialogue in either show... way too modern), beautiful leading blonde who is dull to watch (Amber Heard / Margot Robbie ... is the actress just not bringing it or are these characters too blank) and uneven acting.

So what's the decisive factor in one show winning instant fans and the other a speedy cancellation? I'm thinking confidence, both behind-the-scenes (who knows what executives are thinking) and onscreen. Pan Am struts through its airport like it owns the world and that dead bunny had something of a nervous twitching tail. Confidence in your own voice, even if you're still finding it, goes a long long way towards being heard.

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Reader Comments (14)

How crazy/frustrating that you missed her on stage so many times. I've only seen her in Nine and that not-so-great Into the Woods revival, but she was present for both --

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJon

I heart Laura Benanti. I've seen her four times--Nine, Gypsy, Why Torture is Wrong and Women on the Verge (where she was the only great thing on stage). Her Louise in Gypsy had me in tears. One of the things I loved about that Gypsy revival was that Rose, Herbie and Louise were equally strong performances and brought out the drama.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro

Benanti was definitely the highlight of Playboy Club, I will miss it for her alone. (RE: your "terrible luck" of missing her four times, she suffered a spinal cord injury while doing Into the Woods in 2003 which went undiagnosed for months and then led to several major surgeries I believe up until 2010, which is why she was in and out of shows for a few years. You and your friends weren't the only ones with bad luck.)

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRL

I saw Laura B. in Into The Woods in LA. She was terrific and really stole focus off the purported big names.

I think the problem with The Playboy Club is that everyone in the show LOVED Playboy. I'm sure that's what they had to agree to in order to get the rights, but I didn't see any raging dissent in any of the bunny eyes.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

RL has the story. Laura did major damage to her neck and spine when she was throwing herself down the stairs in Into the Woods. She developed this reputation--started by Internet forums--as being a diva who couldn't handle 8 shows a week. In reality, she had debilitating pain and only recently had surgery to fix it (two years ago, which means that from 2003 to 2009, she dealt with really bad pain thanks to being misdiagnosed when the injury happened). It didn't help that the producers did not want to release the news that Laura hurt herself while performing onstage. They let her take the blame for missing performances.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Robert -- that sucks! i somehow didn't know this but i say "comic grudge" because I love Benanti. That voice is just amazing and she transfers to the screen well (which i didn't previously know... you can never be sure as they're such different mediums.)

October 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Pan Am also seems to benefit from having more nostalgia power than Playboy Club. Everywhere I look there seems to be a story about a mother, an aunt, a grandmother who used to be a Pan Am stewardess or numerous tales about flying when it was super pleasant and high class. Guess less people are willing to go forward about the bunny pasts.

In any case, Benanti was surely the MVP on the show, but I also love the small gay storyline they were weaving.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

The blondes on Pan Am and Playboy Club -- that's definitely a case of the characters being so damn dull and too nice. What saved a character like Betty on Mad Men, the traditional sweet blonde, is they gave her some serious edge.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBia

The Playboy Club could have been soooooo fantastic on something like Starz or Showtime. It could have been ridiculous, campy, trashy fun like True Blood. I never tuned in for an episode because i knew it was going to get cancelled, but i wanted to. I would kill for a decent show not about cops, doctors or lawyers.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

Thank you for offering a little background on Benanti. Brandon and I watched all three episodes, and we were very taken with her. I didn't know who she was, but I immediately wondered why she hadn't worked more, and felt someone should definitiely snatch her up after this. But, eesh, that show. I initially liked it more than Pan Am, but it sunk fast. The last episode basically said to hell with the lead's character continuity, and all the bullshit female empowerment stuff was kinda insulting. Oh well...adieu, Playboy Club.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

"(don't get me started on the dialogue in either show... way too modern)" Right? I've been watching "Pan Am", and as much as it's a feast for the eyes, and the actresses are enjoyable (Christina Ricci!), there is definitely some dialouge that's too modern for the period. Nuance and depth as you mentioned, are also essential.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoel V

Thank you for spotlighting Laura, Nathaniel! She was the sole reason for me to watch this show.

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