TV review: Network television goes back to the ‘60s

By Sofia Economopoulos

Cavalier Daily, U. Virginia via UWIRE

AMC’s hit show Mad Men has not only inspired its own overpriced Banana Republic clothing line, but also a revival of interest in the 1960s that has spawned another two series airing this fall: The Playboy Club and Pan Am. Sex appeal, glamour and a whole lot of cigarette smoke surround these time-capsule series that are sure to appeal to mass audiences and spice up the dreary winter days to come.

The Playboy Club, which debuted Monday on NBC, centers on the secrets, alliances and betrayals that encircle the eponymous establishment where the characters work or spend time. The Don Draper-esque lawyer, Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) and recently hired bunny Maureen (Amber Heard), are thrown together when, while working in the club, Maureen accidentally murders a mobster who tries to rape her. Nick’s attempt to help her cover up the murder alienates Maureen from “bunny mother” Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), who was having an affair with Dalton. And if that doesn’t sound complicated enough, various sub-plots include the closeted lesbian Bunny Alice (Leah Renee), who is in a fraudulent marriage with a gay man, and bunny Brenda (Naturi Naughton), who seeks to become the first black Playboy magazine centerfold.

Although the heightened drama may keep the viewer’s attention, I was put off by the excess of violence — especially sexual violence — in the show; unlike Mad Men, which often touches on gender politics in the workplace, The Playboy Club is much less subtle. In an opening voiceover by Hugh Hefner, the show claims that in the 1960s, “Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be whoever they wanted to be.” However, this justification of female liberation is complicated by the fact that none of the women in the show seem to have much self-determination, a fact that hindered my enjoyment of the 1960s atmosphere the show works so hard to create. I may, now and again, catch an episode after Gossip Girl — which airs Monday Sept. 26 — but judging by the first episode, I’m not waiting to be enthralled.

Pan Am, in turn, tells the story of the model-like stewardesses working for the now-defunct airline. Again, it’s a similar formula: throw pretty women and handsome men together and scandalous escapades ensue. Pan Am also offers hints at some dark espionage, which remains to be unraveled. Starring Christina Ricci as Maggie, a buttoned-up bohemian trying to see the world, Mike Vogel as Dean, a hot new pilot, and Kelli Garner as adventurous Kate, this is definitely going to be an interesting new show to watch — as long as the script is as good as the costume designs. Pan Am is set to debut Sept. 25.

Considering the success of Mad Men, it is no surprise that ABC and NBC, two network giants, would scramble to catch up by releasing their own ‘60s shows. It remains to be seen, however, if The Playboy Club and Pan Am can live up to the formula, especially when the bar has been set so high; Mad Men has taken home 15 Emmys, most recently winning Outstanding Drama for the fourth year in a row last Sunday. So what is it about Mad Men that enthralls mass audiences to such an extent? Sure, women might watch for Don Draper, the ultimate alpha-male sex god, and to see women who flaunt curves rather than the sharp, anorexic figures that seem to monopolize Hollywood today.

Another reason might be the show’s fascinating subject matter: Mad Men investigates the unique culture and fast-paced intrigue of a quickly changing advertising industry. There might be yet another reason; the ‘60s are entertainment gold­ — the distinct male and female gender roles and the emphasis on individualism intrigues not only the average TV watcher, but ones more cultured as well. In many ways, the success of Mad Men is an indication of an American nostalgia for a time where such roles were cleanly delineated. If this wistful longing continues, networks may be able to succeed, as long as they can put out a quality ‘60s show.

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