The Playboy Club: 4 Things Lesbians Need to Know About NBC’s New Show

On September 19th, 2011, The Playboy Club will premiere on NBC. That’s right — that very day, that very show will be available for viewing on your home entertainment system. Will you be tuning in? The answer to that question may require some very serious soul-searching. First, here’s what NBC says it’s about:

“Step inside the seductive world of the Bunny, the epitome of beauty and service, and rub shoulders with the decade’s biggest mobsters, politicos and entertainers (like Tina Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr.). With all these larger than life ambitions, there are even greater secrets. Like when innocent new Bunny Maureen – who wants to take the world by storm – accidentally kills one of the Windy City’s most powerful mafia bosses… and the only person capable of covering it up and protecting her is Nick Dalton, a man who once worked for the mob but is about to run for district attorney. Bunny Alice is married but hiding an explosive personal life while Bunny Janie is running from a past that threatens to catch up with her. It seems everyone has a secret – none more so than Maureen, who may not even be the innocent orphan she appears to be. Thank goodness Hef’s Playboy Mansion is open after hours for a little R&R… and burying your past.”

Right, sounds totally degrading to women, etc etc. Honestly, after sitting through two seasons of The Real L Word, I don’t even think I know what “degrading to women” means anymore, and besides, I’ve always been more concerned about the innocuous misogyny embedded into the very fabric of stupid sitcoms like Two and a Half Men than I am about a show which makes its sexist parable pretty fucking apparent.

But, moving on — The Parents Television Council hates it, obviously, but unfortunately we also hate them. They got at least one affiliate in Salt Lake City (albeit an affiliate owned by the Mormon Church, natch) to decline to air the show. Also hating it? Morality in Media, a 49-year-old “interfaith” group which is executing a “three-pronged attack” against the show’s advertisers, the network, and its affiliates.

Here’s the kicker, though — Gloria Steinem hates it. More on that in a minute.

First, the trailer:

 

Now, four things you need to know when making the very important decision on Monday September 19th at 10pm of what to watch: Intervention or The Playboy Club? THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

 

1. Gay Lady Amber Heard Stars in it

 

Amber Heard, Very Beautiful Lady-Loving-Lesbosexy-Lady, is starring in NBC’s The Playboy Club as “Maureen.”

Heard is appropriately interviewed this week in Playboy magazine and she talks about getting naked for movies, being an athiest, guns, and having to watch her weight for Hollywood.

amber heard in playboy via celebutopia.net

On her character in The Playboy Club:

PLAYBOY: You play Maureen, a Playboy Bunny, on the new NBC drama The Playboy Club. Now that you’ve spent time in the Bunny suit, you can tell us: Is it really that uncomfortable?
HEARD: It feels about an inch away from death. If it got any tighter, we wouldn’t be able to sit upright. I’m ­serious—it’s that intense. But it looks great when you’re wearing it. Actually, you know what I really love about the Playboy Bunny outfit? It’s all about a woman’s silhouette. Whatever happened to that? Back in the 1960s it was fine to have curves. Do you know how happy I am that I get to keep some of my curves? For once I don’t have to starve myself.

On being gay:

PLAYBOY: You came out of the closet last December, sharing details of your relationship with photographer Tasya Van Ree. As a Hollywood sex symbol, did you notice that the announcement had any effect on your career?
HEARD: First of all, to say I came out implies that I was once in. Let me be straight about that—no pun intended [laughs]—I never came out from anywhere. I’ve always lived my life the way I’ve wanted and have been honest with myself and everyone around me. It didn’t really affect anything in my career. I don’t think the producers and directors I’ve worked with care one way or another. The only frustrating part has been all the media attention. For someone like me who prefers to keep her life as private as possible, it has been disconcerting to have to define so much about myself. I don’t want to be labeled as one thing or another. In the past I’ve had successful relationships with men, and now I’m in this successful relationship with a woman. When it comes to love I am totally open. And I don’t want to be put into a category, as in “I’m this” or “I’m that.”

In other news, I’m glad we interviewed her last year before this show started, I don’t think we’re gonna get that opportunity again.

+

2. One of the Bunnies is a Lesbian Activist!

The Playboy Club will feature a lesbian character, too, says AfterEllen. Alice, one of the Bunnies, will play a closeted lesbian in a lavender marriage with a gay man, with whom she’s involved with the Chicago chapter of 1960s LGBT rights group The Mattachine Society:

“It’ll definitely be a part of the show that will continue,” said executive producer Chad Hodge, “And the reason it’s in there is because it comes from character and it comes from who Alice is. When I first approached this material, I really wanted to talk about the inside of the club and the back of the club and the front of the club and what first impressions are and what is behind it. The same goes for a person — what do you think of a person when you first meet them? … That’s really represented when you meet Alice. You don’t think she’s a lesbian when you meet her. You think she’s a perfect married housewife and then you realize she has a secret life that is very tied to the times and history and what’s going on and that’s certainly a major storyline of the series.”

“Well I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but all the other bunnies will find out,” Leah told me after the panel. “Her secret is going to come out. I can tell you that. I don’t know how, I know that our next episode, which we’re working on now, has some really exciting stuff for Alice. Her husband Sean is also a gay man and they’re in a ‘lavender marriage’ — they’ve been friends since they were in high school. They’re just kind of in this together. There’s a lot of fun scenes between them.”

So will she actually find love? “She definitely has somebody that she’s has her eye on for a long time. I’ll say that,” Leah said. “I can’t say if she’ll be her girlfriend or not.”

+

3. Another Lesbian Will Show Up in Episode Two

There’s actually gonna be at least one other lesbian character, says Autostraddle, after catching a sneak peek at the sides for episode two (sides, the scripts given to people auditioning for the show that aren’t exactly supposed to be seen by the press but whatever, are always subject to change and rarely the final draft of the script you end up seeing performed onscreen, however, so you never know what’ll change!) Frances Dunhill is, it would seem, a lesbian who develops a for-show-only relationship with politician Nick Dalton to boost his campaign and please her father. She meets Lesbian #1, Alice, in the second episode, and lets her know “you’re the prettiest girl in the club.” Sparks fly.

+

4. Gloria Steinem Doesn’t Approve

steinem undercover as a playboy bunny

Gloria Steinem, the world’s most famous feminist, doesn’t want you to watch The Playboy Club:

In a new interview with Reuters, the 77-year-old feminist icon said flatly, “I hope people boycott it. It’s just not telling the truth about the era.”

Steinem has special insight into the accuracy of that long-ago world — she went undercover as a bunny at the New York Playboy Club nearly 50 years ago for a groundbreaking exposé. And the new show, she says, “normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance … I just know that over the years, women have called me and told me horror stories of what they experienced at the Playboy Club and at the Playboy Mansion.”

Ahem, my strong feelings about the problematic nature of automatically categorizing prostitution as inherently submissive aside, it’s easy to understand where Steinem is coming from — anyone who’s been a part of any kind of somewhat-underground sexual-related economy will have mixed feelings about the clean-up and glamorization given to it on a teevee show.

Also interesting: those aforementioned sides from Season 2 include a character named Doris who, from what we can gather, is a reporter who goes undercover as a Bunny to write a story for someone somewhere, which later leads Bunny Carol-Lynne to scold her: “There’s a difference between an empowered woman and an ambitious one. This job isn’t easy. Each woman you’ve met here wanted this. She worked for it.” Doris says that’s why she wrote the story — to protect the women, but Carol doesn’t buy it. Is this character supposed to be Gloria Steinem, or a totally unrelated but remarkably similar situation? I guess you’ll only know if you watch the show and that scene stays in it.

Ultimately, despite my far-left radical lesbian feminist personality and obligatory allegiance to Ms.Steinem, I still feel like I have to watch this show. I mean, of the five primary Bunnies — Alice is a lesbian (played by Leah Renee), Brenda is a woman of color (played by Naturi Naughton), Maureen is played by a lesbian actress (Amber Heard) and Carol-Lynne is played by Tony-Award winning actress Laura Benanti (a dead ringer for lesbian actress Haviland Stillwell) who did a really good job in Gypsy which is relevant to the interests of this program. The fifth primary bunny, Janie, is played by Jenna Dewan who is not a lesbian and doesn’t play a lesbian and wasn’t in Gypsy but she was in a Missy Elliot music video once. So.

There’s at least two gay male characters, at least two gay female characters — how can I resist?

At the end of the day I’ll watch anything with a lesbian character. If I really hate it and find it horribly offensive, I could always just, you know, recap it.

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1762 articles for us.

59 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I was going to pass over this show (I get all of my LOL WACKY SIXTIES SEXISM but EVERYONE LOOKS SO GLAMOROUS needs fulfilled by Mad Men) until I heard about the whole plotline with Alice. I’m watching the premiere when it airs, I don’t even care. If they feature a lesbian as a major character with more than one major plotline to be explored, then I am THERE.

    I’m just praying she and Brenda don’t end up getting sidelined when the show hits its stride, as it usually seems to happen to queer characters or characters of colour. :( But I guess on the plus side, I’ll always have Amber Heard to look forward to.

  2. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Another vote for seeing it, at least as far as Whedon fans are concerned: Sean Maher aka Simon Tam plays Alice’s gay husband.

    Honestly, though, I was ready to watch this show because the fact that they have gay characters made me think that maybe this would be mostly from the Bunnies’ POV and it would show the dark side of the Playboy Club. But Gloria Steinem’s complaints about it have me really rethinking this.

  3. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    back in the day of days (sometime in the 70s i think), my grandma was so fed up with my grandpa’s “collection” of playboy magazines that she decided to put them all out on the sidewalk for the trash men to pick up. apparently though my gpa’s “collection” was so so legit & he had 1st editions of the marilyn monroe issue…the jane mansfield issue..and a ton more (those are the ones that i can remember atm) and that was that.

    basically what i’m saying is that a) i have a lot of stories re: my grandmother and b) WTF THERE GOES MY INHERITANCE.

    and also – i just watched a thing about how hugh gave his daughter control of playboy back whenever and at the time feminists were like, “ah fuck…she’s a vag owner…now what the fuck what?”

    also – i’m going to watch this like woah.

  4. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I plan to watch. I actually think it is quite great that this show will explore The Mattachine group, a huge part of gay history. So, depending on how that storyline goes, it will trump any misogyny in this show.

    Plus, the ladies are hot! (Oh come on, you know you want to watch because of that too!)

  5. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    After punishing myself by watching The Real L Word, this will be almost theraputic..As to whether it “normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender..”…I’m sorry, but the moment women started pole dancing as “exercise”..Guys won! Plus..AMBER HEARD!!

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      i dont know, i know a shit ton of lesbians who are amazing pole dancers. and they dont do it for men and they dont perform in strip clubs. they love it for the exercise and the fun. they have poles in their living room and practice alone, they go to women only classes with their friends, etc.
      i understand where pole dancing originated and how it can totally be viewed as “guys won”, but….i think guys are only “winning” when we decide as women to have the attitude that we cant do certain things we might enjoy because it would “let the patriarchy win”.

  6. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    well, I’m going to watch it and decide for myself. I’m not going to boycott it sight unseen. One issue is the representation of the era. Riese pointed out glamorizing and cleaning it up is problematic, but on the other hand pretending it didn’t happen is problematic too. And is it just the exploitation of women that people don’t like or the fact that sexuality is being portrayed at all? Its a madonna in the kitchen v. whore in the streets issue as well. Women are only allowed to be in one of two categories and the show may play with that. I want to see the show first and then decide if it needs to be boycotted.

  7. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Another reason to watch The Playboy Club and make up your own mind about the content is that the rights to my book THE BUNNY YEARS have been acquired for potential use in upcoming episodes . . .I was in Bunny training with Gloria Steinem, have my own very different experience of working as a Bunny, and I interviewed more than 250 former Bunnies to write about the 25 year history of Playboy Clubs from their POV. Do we need a boosypants telling us what to watch, think, read? I will, as I always have, make up my own mind . . . and I’m a former Bunny!

  8. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I can’t even count how many times a show promised us a lesbian character, only for it to be transparently about titillation and rather short-lived. I’m not going to get my hopes on this one. Plus, while the women on this show are indeed hot, doing it purely for the gratification of skeevy men (referring to the characters on the show, not a real life viewing audience) is a turn off for me.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Actually, I think that the lesbian character on this show will be the opposite of “titillating” – she’s in a career that panders to the gratification of skeevy men, but she’s the most unobtainable character (from what the reviews tell us). And I don’t mean that in a teasing sort of way, I mean that she’s completely disconnected from the attractions bestowed on her, and I doubt they’re going to have a “lesbian romance” to bring in ratings when the entire show has scantily clad hetero women to pander to that hetero-male demographic.

      …I hope that makes sense =\ That was a lot harder to put in words than I expected lol

  9. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Here’s the thing: I find it really difficult to get upset about this show. My boss’s father was a member of the original Playboy Club in Chicago. The stories she tells … man, let’s just say that it’s a premise that is just begging for a show/movie/book to be created around it. Yes, it was an absurdly unequal time for women and minorities and yes, the world the Playboy Club inhabited is not only completely out of touch with our world today, it was completely out of touch with the world of the 1960s. But just because it represents a crappier time doesn’t mean it’s endorsing it any more than “Breaking Bad” endorses selling meth. What will make or break this show, for me, is its execution, not its subject. How that plays out remains to be seen.

  10. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    maybe im a bad person but since hearing about this show coming out ive been ridiculously excited and never considered boycotting it………not gonna lie.

    also my other main thoughts are that i would look killer in a bunny suit. just sayin.

  11. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Nothing about this is remotely enticing. Also, hot? Maybe if they weren’t wearing bunny suits. And didn’t look like every other girl EVER.

    I think it’s depressing that as a community, we are so lacking in queer television that THIS seems like a good idea.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Well, this show isn’t being targeted toward the queer community. Regardless of the sexist overtones of the show, it’ll be really interesting and exciting to see gay people on a glamourized show like this since the demographic is the broader American public.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        Yeah, I think it’s different when it appears this actually will be educating people about pre-Stonewall queer history. I had never heard of the Mattachine Society before reading this, and I’m actually queer – so I’m sure this will be new information to a lot of people watching the show.

        It’s clearly not just about lesbians for titillation, it seems the show does actually want to get the gay side of it accurate.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          Yeah, and from the previews, it even seems to show the sexist sides in a not-so-nice light. I mean, Maureen is being sexually harassed which results in an accidental death. If they wanted to glamourize the harassment, she wouldn’t be resisting him, you know?

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          But I mean, of course sexual harassment will be shown in a negative light. What bothers me is the more casual sexism (like, the whole existence of Playboy) seems to get a pass or even be misconstrued as “empowering.”

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          I agree with that, but it’s such a fine line to walk when it’s a woman’s decision to buy into that sexist-environment. I’ve had many arguments with friends (some feminist-identified and some not) about whether or not strippers are empowered. I think this Playboy thing can be slotted into the same argument.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      yeah they all look generic and none of them are girls i think i would be attracted to IRL… but anyhow, i just got a teevee a few months ago so that i could recap shit more easily and i keep turning it on and looking at the channels and like UGH. like everything on every single channel is dumb! i can’t believe that teevee is so dumb. i always end up watching some stupid crime mystery show but like, boring, whatever, predictable, bored of those now. and then there’s all these other channels with their own brands of crap, like some crap reality show, some news story about how your milk is gonna kill your child and steal your identity, men throwing balls on a field, sleep number, history thing you already saw in 3rd gade, the fast and the furious, crappy sitcom rerun, stupid film nobody ever wanted to see, shows about building walls or casseroles, buy shit, stupid shit for dudes, i mean really compared to the rest of the shitstorm that is, apparently, the thing i’m paying for when my cable bill arrives, whatever, i will watch this bullshit show. because there’s gonna be a lesbian in it who cares about civil rights, which is like a goddamn fucking miracle of life. plus, she’s robin hooding it. oh whatever. i’ll watch it because everything else on the teevee is EVEN WORSE!

      thank you
      goodnight

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      My thoughts exactly. Just because there’s a lesbian character and a lesbian actress isn’t enough to get me to watch. It has to not suck, too, and not a single thing I’ve heard about this show makes me think it’ll be something I’ll enjoy even a little, not even as a guilty pleasure.

      Bleh.

  12. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I’m not gonna lie, i’ll watch anything with lesbians in it..
    (am i being a bad feminist for secretly hoping the show will suck, so riese can write her brilliant recaps and slash it with her vicious vicious words..?)

  13. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Ugh, I really dislike the idea of people wanting to boycot this show sight unseen. It’s kind of how people want to take out the N word from Huckleberry Finn. Yeah, okay, we live in an “evolved” (bullshit) society today, where people know you don’t say the N word and you don’t treat women like women were treated at the Playboy Club, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN IT DIDN’T HAPPEN! It did. So, in the interest of respecting our history, and respecting how far we’ve come, I’m absolutely going to watch this show and be proud of the life I get to lead today.

    Besides, the fact that there is a lesbian character (so far) makes me happy. Just because it represents an ugly and uninformed part of the world doesn’t mean it won’t be seen partially through the eyes of today.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I don’t think the feminist critics of the show (as opposed to the conservative critics of it) are complaining that it’s showing the Playboy Club at all. I think someone like Gloria Steinem would applaud a show that gave what she felt was a more accurate, darker depiction of what it was like to be a Playboy Bunny in the early ’60s. I think the complaints are that it is romanticizing it. Certainly, the show’s connections with the actual Playboy empire and Hugh Hefner suggest we won’t be getting a hard-hitting portrayal.

      I also don’t think you can compare a show that was conceived as historical – as The Playboy Club is, being set 50 years in the past from when it will be airing – with a work that was written in the times it depicts. Huckleberry Finn wasn’t a “historical” novel when it was written, and that’s one of the common counterarguments to people who complain about the book containing the n-word – that you can’t expect a 19th-century novel to reflect contemporary race relations.

      Historical works are often as much a reflection of the times in which they were made as they are of the times they depict. (See, for example, pre-civil rights movement depictions of the Antebellum South, such as Gone With The Wind, versus modern ones.) Besides that, someone who is looking at an event with decades or centuries of posterity is going to see it very differently from someone caught in the thick of it. So you really can’t compare the two.

  14. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I live in that aforementioned market in Salt Lake City that will not be airing it (this same affiliate also does not air Saturday Night Live. Fortunately another station picked that up here) Also, this show holds no interest at all for me.

  15. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Wow. There’s nothing about this show that looks even a little bit interesting. Plus, given that they’re using the Playboy and Bunny names, they’ve probably paid Playboy for the rights. That alone is enough to make me avoid it like the plague. I despise Playboy and everything it stands for and I refuse to support it.

    I hope this tanks so Amber Heard can get a show that doesn’t suck. Actually, I hope that for all the actresses. I know they’ve all got bills to pay, but damn! I wish they had better options.

  16. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    It sounds like doris is unquestionably based on g steinem.

    Whether to watch or no? It’s fiction, it’s not a historical study, or a documentary. So it’s about today. And it’s on those terms it should be judged.

    And It could still be well done and worth watching even if it’s “inaccurate” or “offensive.” There is so much great literature, art, philosophy, etc that we would miss if we only saw and read that which is historically accurate and that which represents our own political commitments and concerns.

  17. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    just watched the blue/grey carpet clip with amber heard and i was a wee bit teary, not going to lie. also, he looks even hotter on video. it’s not even right.

    that said, the lady has never used the l word, and i wonder if we can keep using it for her without moving into willful ignorance territory (especially in light of the above quote re: relationships with dudes).

  18. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    I expect that this will be a lot like Mad Men only with less clothing on.

    Meaning

    a) overglamourized interpretation of a part of our flawed history

    b) descriptive of outdated gender dynamics, but not prescriptive as a dynamic we should return to or idealize

    and c) seriously, youguys. less clothing.

    I’m watching.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.