“The Playboy Club” Reminds Me That Heterosexuals Sure Are Boring

Men and women. Men. Women. Men and women! Men like women. Women like men, but men REALLY like women. In a sexual way. Especially pretty women! Men LOVE pretty women! Pretty women make men do wild things! Men like money and power and sex. Women like getting married and haircare products. Men and women! Forever and ever and ever!

Yawn.

The Playboy Club premiered on NBC last night, and it was okay. Actually the first 55 minutes were borderline compelling, but then it ended with this smarmy heavyhanded Young Hugh Hefner voiceover which retroactively undid any of the program’s prior achievements. He growled about “things changing” in America back then and then unloaded a cement truck of shit onto the screen by declaring that at The Playboy Club, “women could be whatever they wanted to be” — which is only true if all women want to be is an employee of The Playboy Club.

The post-show “scenes from this season on The Playboy Club” fell a bit flat, too: Mafia-type men in suits (all men look the same to me, basically) sit in cars and talk to each other like stand-ins for the mob guys from Season Two of The Wire. Men make threats to other men and occasionally to women. Laura Benanti’s character, despite being played by Laura Benanti, continues scaling the Mountain of Unlikeability. Women are mean to other women because of men. Men and women kiss each other and yell at each other.

It got me thinking — I’ll watch any program with a lesbian storyline. That’s my team. But that’s not the only reason. Gay storylines are bound to say something new, something necessary and fresh, something people might notice and remember.

In the case of The Playboy Club, the gay storyline is, surprisingly enough, by far the show’s freshest element. Teevee overlords need to stop driving new television shows forward which depend on this year’s fad to explain their existence – Mad Men Retro, Friends Multi-Gendered Buddy Comedy, ER Hunky Hospital Show. The original isn’t just good because it’s written or produced better than the knock-off. It’s good just because it’s the original.

Luckily for this show, it’s got the aforementioned gay storyline, which’ll likely ease my instinct to drywall this time next week. Alice and her gay husband are already being sneaky homosexual radicals in Episode One and you can’t be mad at a lesbian who works as a Playboy Bunny to fundraise for the epically important secret gay rights group The Mattachine Society.

[Sidenote: The Mattachine Society aimed to "unify homosexuals," "educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples," assist oppressed gays and "lead socially conscious gays to provide leadership for "social deviantes," whatever that may mean in this context.]

This could easily be the first time in recorded history that gay history is being taught on a mainstream television program, because everybody in television thinks that gay people were invented in 1995 (except the industry veterans who vaguely remember SOAP).

Furthermore, lesbian actress Amber Heard is playing the show’s female lead, Maureen the Doe-Eyed And/Or Whipsmart Bunny, which means ten thousand men will google Amber Heard tonight and see this:

amber heard with her girlfriend at a pro-gay-marriage rally

Although one might predict The Playboy Club would engender feminist rage, I wasn’t put off by the gender roles at work here (save Hef’s voiceover). Regardless, it seems the program’s trying to make progress in other areas to compensate for its inherently sexist premise — the female characters do, for the most part, come off as strong, smart and independent.

I’ll keep watching, because of inertia and the lesbian, but I hope this show finds its voice at some point — and I don’t mean a voice like Hugh Hefner’s voiceover, I mean the opposite of that: an edge, a voice we haven’t heard before, something that uses a new setting to tell new stories rather than wasting it on the same old song and dance.

(Also, this face puts me to sleep:)

hi! i'm a manly man man on your tv!

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Riese is the 32-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!

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51 Comments

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      Yeah he is in 10 Things I Hate About You…his name is David Krumholtz.

      You may also remember him as Bernard the Elf from The Santa Clause. In some childhood memory-ruining contrast, he is also the crazy guy that stabbed Carter and Lucy in E.R.

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        He will always be Mr. Universe to me!

        “Guy killed me, Mal. Killed me with a sword. How weird is that?”

        And this show could not be any more bland if it tried. I’ll pass. I’ve just recently discovered ‘Carnivale’ (late to the party as always), and though I have no idea what the fuck is going on, at least it’s compelling. I made it maybe 10 minutes into this before I started wandering off. I guess I need more than “there’s a lesbian here” to keep me interested.

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          Yeah the juxtaposition of those roles are in the ranks of Dr. Janosz Poha of Ghostbusters 2 (or as I prefer to call him: the guy that kidnaps baby Oscar) as a pediatric surgeon on Grey’s and Nicholas Brendan as the rapist on Private Practice.

          Sigh. Whatever happened to typecasting?

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          He will always be the kid from Adams Family Values to me :) I still love that movie even though I’m sure that makes me a huge nerd.

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          It makes me a much bigger nerd that I recognize him mostly for starring in numb3rs, the geekiest cop (technically FBI) drama procedural. I had no idea that he was going to be in this show and my first thought was that going from playing a CalTech math professor to a sleazy playboy club manager is a serious downgrade.

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          He was also math boy in Numbers and Neil’s brother on Freaks and Geeks.

          As far as disturbing roles by beloved actors go, I’d say seeing Wash cut up people’s faces on Dollhouse was unnerving, Mal as creepy preacher Caleb who very much enjoys stabbing teenage girls was pretty awful (plus that thing with Xander’s eyeball), but the worst was Xander raping Charlotte on Private Practice.

          I guess what I’m saying is that seeing Whedonverse characters do violence is not fun and also that I watch too much TV.

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          [quote]but the worst was Xander raping Charlotte on Private Practice.[/quote]

          God yes! I haven’t been able to look at Nick Brendon the same way again after seeing that. All rape scenes are disturbing but Charloette’s rape and it’s aftermath were particularly brutal.

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      I thought it was just me… and I’m bi. In my case, it’s not *all* men, but I do have a terrible problem distinguishing between men who (others tell me) only look vaguely similar. It makes understanding what’s happening in shows like Pretty Little Liars hella difficult. (Like: ‘Wait. Was that Melissa’s husband or Alison’s brother or the guitar-playing guy who blackmailed Aria’s boyfriend?’) And I also have trouble remembering what men look like at all (as in, recognising that I have met / spoken to this person before). It gets embarrassing.

      I actually have a male partner of 20 years – but he was frequently mistaken for a sightly butch woman till he grew a beard in his late 30s. So there’s that. I keep wondering how on earth it took me so long to figure out my orientation. Social normalisation is a powerful thing, I guess.

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        Well in the case of Pretty Little Liars, this problem becomes especially difficult given that they actually recast Melissa’s husband and Alison’s brother like twice or something and then tried to pass them off as the same actor. Which is odd. The only male character I consistently recognize on there is the guy who plays Ian because he was in this Disney Channel movie about leprechauns way back in the day and I thought he was awesome.

        ps. i’m very very excited about the fact that ten thousand men are going to see amber heard and her gf protesting prop 8 in weho. win

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      Really? This is a joke/sarcasm right? I guess I’m not in the “all men look the same” lesbian camp. That’s just silly for me to say and is sooo dismissive. If anyone ever said that all women look the same to them, that they are interchangable, this place would light up like a christmas tree with indignant queers.

      This bugs me almost as much as the “there’s no such thing as a straight woman” crap that I hear from some lesbians.

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        Yeah, it’s kind of weird, I agree. Obviously all men don’t look the same. I feel like sometimes some queer girls I know get super defensive about looking at men… it’s okay, I know you’re not attracted!

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        Not a joke. “All men look the same” was a silly way to word it and I apologise if that was offensive, however, I genuinely have difficulty distinguishing between men sometimes. To the extent that as Megaera discussed above, I sometimes have trouble following storylines on TV/in movies because I can’t tell some of the the male characters apart. Obviously not all men, however if they don’t have obvious differences in their hair or faces I frequently have trouble telling who is who. I’ve always thought it was due to women often having a greater variety of hair styles than men/something wrong with my brain, and I was genuinely interested to see that other people have the same problem telling men apart sometimes.
        It’s logical that lesbians look at men in a different way to straight women, so I wondered if that might be a potential reason.

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        Honestly not a joke. Nor meant to be dismissive. I have autistic kids, so I thought maybe I was a bit autistic myself, because I couldn’t distinguish well between people. Then I realised recently that it was only men I had that problem with. So I thought, like Banananana, that maybe it was because women had more individually distinctive hairstyles, or because many wore make-up, which make them more clearly distinct from one another.

        It has been a cause of genuine embarrassment to me. E.g. there is a guy in our village who I know well enough that I’ve been to his house for dinner, and he’s been to dinner at my house. I’ve spent literally hours in this guy’s company, and he is a genuinely nice guy. There’s another guy in the village who I don’t know so well – I’ve just seen him in passing when dropping kids off to school – and I have serious difficulty distinguishing between them. I finally managed to figure it out when I was in the same room with both of them for an hour and spent most of that time looking from one to the other working to identify the minor (to me) differences in their features, so that I could tell the difference between them in the future. This was causing real embarrassment for me, as I wasn’t sure whether to greet the guy in front of me casually in passing, or make a point of stopping to chat and ask about his family. My partners tell me they look nothing alike.

        Anyway, I was fascinated to find that other people have this issue too. I thought it was just me.

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          Yep, totally a real thing. I am just really bad at distinguishing faces in general! I took a test for prosopagnosia (which is what the inability to distinguish faces as a neurological condition is called) online and scored at the very lowest edge of normalcy. I think I’d probably have this problem just as much with women, except that it’s true that ladies tend to have more variety in hairstyles, etc. My habit at work (large company, but fairly minimal opportunities for interaction) now is to assume I’m constantly walking past people whose faces I ought to remember, and move in a state of half-smiling, half-cringing mortification.

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      Normal men? No.

      Men on TV? I cannot tell them apart. TV being what it is, they all have generic ‘leading man’ faces, similar builds, and hair that changes too fast to use it as an identifying marker (save for the guy in The Mentalist- I can spot that mop anywhere, even surrounded by zombies).

      At least with women on TV they tend to have really obvious hair and styles, so it’s easier.

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    Every guy I’ve seen comment on Amber Heard ignorantly states that they either don’t believe she’s really gay or that they can turn her so I doubt this going to make much difference. I genuinely like her in interviews. She seems cool. I just haven’t enjoyed a single performance she’s given in anything. This character is probably the closest I’ve come to enjoying her in something si I hold out hope that the show gets better.

    Mostly I’m watching this show for Laura Benanti(bonus points if she sings every week), Naturi Naughton, and the gay couple’s storyline. Hey, does everybody remember when Naturi used to be in that girl group 3LW?

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    I watched this and immediately wondered what the AS recap would say. I definitely think it’s trying way too hard to be Mad Men–especially the male lead. Ain’t no one gonna be Don Draper, except Don Draper. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can all put our Brylcreem away.

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      The point where ‘main character heart-throb guy who I remember having a crush on when I was 10 and not gay yet and religiously watched Young & The Restless’ was talking to Maureen in the kitchen at his place.. I swear for a minute I actually asked myself if he was told clear his throat and lower his voice a lá Draper any time he had a hi-ball glass in his hand.

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    I only watch this show because of Laura Benanti. I am a huge fan of hers from her Broadway career. I guess I’m too biased to see her character as unlikable. Carol Lynn is definitely going to show a sweeter side later on though.

    I’m too biased to review this show because of Laura. I just can’t believe she’s on a network TV show being viewed by millions of people!! Anyway. I know the show probably has a weak plot but I’ll just be watching to see her gorgeous face and hear all her amazing songs.

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    I really enjoyed it, but then again I always have low expectations for pilots. It was fun, and kind of stupid, but if they get rid of the Hef voice overs, I think I’m pretty much sold.

    I think this partly has to do with the fact that I still miss American Dreams as if someone had cut off a limb, so I’ll take anything 60-ish to try and fill the Meg Pryor shaped hole in my heart.

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    It wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible. That’s basically how I feel about it. I hope it gets better, because there is some potential there to tell some interesting stories. The side plot about the Mob was super boring though, I tuned out basically any time it was just guys in suits on the screen.

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    No, thanks. I’m skipping this one, ’cause I have Tumblr. Which is like a giant rainbow-sprinkling-nyancat-shitting gay machine that filters/add generously/impose non-existent gay mojo on whatever there is on tv land.

    That dry eye which caused Dianna Agron to blink a few times? MOTHER MARY QUINN TOTALLY BOINK RACHEL AND GOT PINK HAIR ‘CAUSE RACHEL BROKE HER HEART.

    The friendly accidental brush of clothing between PLLs? MOTHER MARY SHE TOTALLY BOINK EVERYONE AND OMG EVERYBODY LOOKS SO PRETTY OMG THAT SHOVEL IS CREEPY WHATS UP WITH THAT

    Except Mad Men though, Jon Hamm is like a lesbian Tumblr shield or something. Sheesh.

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    I had a feeling this show would be boring. I guess because I’m not 12 or sexually attracted to grown women dressed as bunny rabbits; I didn’t find it that titillating even though the show was trying really hard to be “sexy”. Or, maybe, I’m just a little desensitized to scantily clad women on TV. But, to people who did find the show sexy; right on.

    My favorite part was the few gay storyline scenes. I LOVE that they’re showing a bit of gay history on such a mainstream show and I love the lesbian bunny; she seems sweet. They only got like 3 minutes of screen time though. Come on! :)

    Who cares about the dudes in their suits talking about being dudes!?! I want more screen time of the sweet lesbian bunny!!! Por Favor!!!

    Sweet lesbian bunnies!! Sweet lesbian bunnies!!! Sweet lesbian bunnies!!! Everybody join in!!!

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    Amber Heard + gorgeous hair + bountiful cleavage = good enough.

    And also, it’s nice to see that even though the sexism is rampant, it’s not a glossy depiction – the sexual harassment and ensuing result within the first 5 minutes seemed to send that message clear.

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