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Hef-hearted effort for 'The Playboy Club'

Cast members of NBC's

Cast members of NBC's "The Playboy Club." Photo Credit: NBC

THE SHOW "The Playboy Club"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 10 on NBC/4

REASON TO WATCH The '60s, um, landmark.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) is an attorney and a Playboy Club regular who one night comes to the aid of a new waitress, or "Bunny." Maureen (Amber Heard) is being assaulted by a customer in a backroom, and accidentally kills him. Oops! He's Chicago's crime boss. Nick has ties to the mob, so the high-powered stiff poses problems. Meanwhile, the club's lead singer, Carol-Lynne (Broadway's Laura Benanti), is getting grief from club boss Billy Rosen (David Krumholtz). Hugh Hefner -- his real voice heard in voice-over, while an actor portraying him is seen fleetingly -- comes to her support. She's promoted to "Bunny Mother."

MY SAY We haven't thought about the Playboy Club in decades. It is as far removed from our plane of consciousness as the third moon of Jupiter. Why make a show about a long-forgotten excrescence of '60s culture that was once controversial and now irrelevant?

Three reasons: Scantily clad women; the newly fashionable '60s, thanks to "Mad Men"; and music. The club was a hot spot for leading acts of the day, and there are some pleasing, too-brief musical diversions -- notably by Benanti, one of the great voices of the modern stage. Overall, it's slick, good-looking and well acted.

But "The Playboy Club" doesn't quite know what it wants to say about the era or its strange namesake institution. Hef isn't seen as some sort of swingin' cultural hero because that would be delusional; neither is he a villain. He's just there, lurking off-screen -- a voice, or an actor's back, each verging on an "SNL" impersonation. The show insists that Bunnies were on the vanguard of the women's liberation movement. Given what they used to represent, that may sound like a hilarious bit of historic revisionism. It's also pretty much the only choice a prime-time drama about Playboy Bunnies circa 2011 could make.

BOTTOM LINE A competently made soap with some good actors and nicely staged musical numbers. For desperate NBC, that may be more than enough.


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