Well, the first thing to be absolutely clear on is that The Playboy Club does not have a bigger message. As showrunner Chad Hodge hinted recently, if you're coming expecting a thorough exploration of whether working as a Bunny is empowering, you're going to be disappointed. Instead, you have to watch The Playboy Club expecting a glossy soap - and it manages that kind of drama well.
First of all, there's no denying that the show is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Period detail always helps a programme seem lovely, and it works well here. But what about the main plot? Well, we're quickly introduced to new Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard), a naive young woman who expects that she can just put her cigarette tray down to go and dance with a client (much to the chagrin of long-time Bunny Carol-Lynne).
We're straight into the world of the Playboy Club, with Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti) belting out a classic song and suave, eyebrow-raising attorney Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian) coming to spend his evening in the company of the Bunnies. Maureen is captivated by Carol-Lynne, but goes to dance with the aforementioned client, only to move away when his hands begin to wander. This doesn't look like it will be a good move - he gets out his handkerchief and looks a bit angry.
We're also introduced to other characters in this opening sequence, with barman Max and Bunnies Alice and Brenda making their first appearances. My favourite at the beginning was probably Bunny Janie, who smacks down a group of men with a perfect smile (though Max, her boyfriend, is still unhappy about her working there).
Elsewhere, we meet the Club's manager Billy and discover that Nick is dating Carol-Lynne. Nick and Maureen also meet for the first time, and Maureen goes to get him some cigarettes from the back.
This is the moment when The Playboy Club really sets out its stall as a soap. The keyholder with the wandering hands appears and complains that Maureen pushed him away. He pushes her up against a locker and tries to sexually assault her (so yeah, being a Bunny ain't that glamorous).
Meanwhile, Nick notices that his cigarettes are taking a while to appear and goes to find Maureen. He arrives just in time to see the client pinning Maureen to the floor. He tries to pull him off but apparently Nick Dalton is a bit weak - he gets punched and has to recover, bless. Still trying to fight off the man, Maureen kicks out - the only problem is that she stabs his neck with her stiletto and kills him. Ridiculous, but a lot of fun.
Anyway, Maureen stupidly wants to call the police because it was all self defence, but Nick drops a bombshell - that wasn't just anyone she just killed. No - it was the mob boss Bruno Bianchi. Uh oh! Nick takes control, telling Maureen to clean herself up. Maureen finds Bruno's key and stuffs it down her Bunny outfit - because that's a real safe place to keep it - and then they take Bruno's body down and chuck it in the water.
Nick takes Maureen back to his fancy apartment so she can shower (and so that he can unzip her costume), but unsurprisingly she discovers that the key has disappeared. Anyway, while she showers Nick calls Billy and claims that he couldn't help himself so took his car and Maureen, adding that Carol-Lynne doesn't need to know.
Back at the club, Carol-Lynne's getting a bit annoyed at the state of things. When Billy complains that she's supposed to use the bathroom in the dressing room, she reminds him that she's been there longer than him and even picked out the wallpaper. Ouch. Turns out that the dressing room bathroom lock is broken, which means she later walks in on Janie and Max in a compromising position (weirdly, Max also chooses this time to propose, though Janie understandably turns him down).
If that wasn't enough, Carol-Lynne is furious that Maureen put down her cigarette tray to dance and is angry that she left halfway through her shift. In fact, it's not long before she puts two and two together and realises that Maureen must have left with Nick.
Alice attempts to commiserate, saying that her husband hates her working there, but points out that she makes better money than her father. Anyway, Alice is up to something too, because when her husband picks her up he cryptically asks how long they can "keep this going". Alice thinks they've got until she slips up...
Maureen finishes her shower, puts on a shirt, and goes to have a drink with Nick. He announces that she can trust him because he's about to run for state's attorney (sure, because politicians are real trustworthy). He advises her to get out of town, but Maureen refuses - she's worked too hard to get to this point.
The pair are interrupted when Carol-Lynne arrives, and Maureen goes to hide in a cupboard. It doesn't work, though, because Carol-Lynne spots Maureen's Bunny costume on the counter. Nick can protest all he wants, but Carol-Lynne is leaving.
Maureen goes back home to the Playboy Mansion, where Brenda pushes for details on her supposed wild night of passion with Nick Dalton. Maureen's keeping her mouth shut, though, and Brenda offers her advice that Nick is everything you want and everything you don't. This guy seems to have quite a reputation.
The next morning, Nick coincidentally returns to hand Billy back his car key at just the time Bruno's wife is calling and looking for her husband. Billy claims he doesn't know what was going on - pretending that he doesn't know Bruno was really a big mob boss - and Nick manages to craftily slip in that obviously Bruno wasn't with Maureen because he was. Sly.
After having an awkward meeting with Carol-Lynne, who refuses to have dinner with him, Nick heads off to court where he is approached by a certain Johnny Bianchi. Johnny wants him to throw his latest case, but Nick announces that he doesn't work for the family anymore. Anymore! Well, well, well. Anyway, Johnny says Bruno didn't come home last night and warns that Nick should be sorry for whoever's responsible.
Back at the club, Carol-Lynne breaks into Billy's office to look at Maureen's file, but she's obviously caught in the act. She doesn't have any remorse, though - she believes Billy's letting standards slide and he needs her help. She says it's always been her plan as she knew she couldn't be a Bunny forever.
Billy fires her for being a thief and stealing his files, but Carol-Lynne's not deterred. She heads straight for the Playboy Mansion and it's not long before Hugh Hefner's on the phone persuading Billy to change his mind.
In fact, Carol-Lynne gets promoted and becomes the new "Bunny Mother", who's going to train all the women to be the best possible Bunnies. Oh, and she drops in some new rules, like that Bunnies can no longer date keyholders or slip in the back with them. Wonder what brought that on? Anyway, it certainly worries Maureen, who that night pulls Nick aside and says she thinks Carol-Lynne knows. Nick insists she's just jealous and tells Maureen to act as if nothing has happened.
Maureen heads back to the club and joins the other Bunnies, who are dancing to Ike and Tina Turner. The problem is that a mob guy is watching and finding out that she danced with Bruno the night before. Later, when she goes into the back (seriously, Maureen, don't go in the back anymore), the mobster approaches her and asks after Bruno.
Maureen claims she doesn't know anything and went home with Nick Dalton, before getting away by suggesting that if she'd seen the mobster first, she might have gone home with him. It was quite interesting watching her using her sexuality to save herself and hopefully we'll see more of that side of things.
Meanwhile, Nick hands Carol-Lynne some earrings he'd been saving to give her for her birthday. Admirably, Carol-Lynne (who is clearly the most interesting character in the whole show), refuses to fall straight back into Nick's arms. She tells him that he doesn't want to believe any woman in the world could walk away from him, but she's going to. Hurrah!
Then Carol-Lynne asks Maureen to follow her into the back and asks if she's doing well. She points out that Maureen's lost her smile in the first week. Maureen tries to apologise because of the whole Nick thing, but Carol-Lynne says that actually she just wants to train Maureen so that she can be the best Bunny she can be.
Maureen is quite rightly cynical, and suggests that maybe Carol-Lynne is just keeping her enemies close. But Carol-Lynne promises that she's on Maureen's side and advises her not to get mixed up with Nick Dalton, who is friends with some rather dodgy people. "If I were you, and believe me, I was, I'd stay very far away," she says.
In the club, Nick gets a call and agrees to meet Johnny outside. Naturally, while he waits he chats to Maureen, who's still recovering from that creepy mobster. He soon discovers that their alibi is that they went home together, so when Johnny shows up he gives Maureen a big kiss to keep the pretence going. How convenient for him.
Anyway, he gets into Johnny's car and insists that he has no idea where Bruno is, adding that Maureen went home with him so couldn't have been involved. Johnny thinks Nick might know something, pointing out that it would be easier for him to become state's attorney without Bruno around.
But Nick points out that it's now easier for Johnny to become head of the mob so he might have his own motives. We also learn that Bruno originally took Nick in but the pair allegedly haven't spoken for three years. Johnny is Bruno's son and clearly resents Nick.
Elsewhere, it's time to find out more about Alice and her mystery husband. It turns out that her spouse is actually gay and a member of the Mattachine Society - a secret group for homosexual people. The money Alice is earning is all being used to help out. This is something I don't really know a lot about, so I hope we get to find out more as the show continues - it could be something very interesting.
Back at the Playboy Mansion, it's party time. Maureen just wants to go to bed, but Brenda points out that life is tough, they're at the party, and if Maureen wants to turn down the invitation she's only got herself to blame. Maureen's swayed by her arguments and goes down to have some fun - also imagining herself performing on the stage one day. And, naturally, Nick's there to watch on. We also see the back of Hefner, who's chatting to Carol-Lynne.
But the episode doesn't end at the swinging party - instead, it's back to where Maureen and Nick dumped Bruno's body. It turns out that's where his key got to, and it's dug up by a workman. So that's going to end well, isn't it?
I actually enjoyed The Playboy Club a lot more than I was expecting. I'm not the biggest fan of Eddie Cibrian, but it's not really about him - instead, it's about the women at the club, and there are definitely some interesting characters among them (again, it's all about Carol-Lynne).
That's not to say the show's perfect - while I have no problem with women working as Playboy Bunnies if that is what they choose, there were moments that jarred. Like when the Bunnies got new costumes and cheered at the slogan "higher hips, higher tips". Or when Billy says he didn't like seeing people come on to his wife so he married her and got her "pregnant and ugly". Or when one of the Bunnies confessed to hearing of a new diet which involved throwing up after she'd eaten, and the only kind of challenge this raised was a baffled glance from one of her colleagues.
The Playboy Club isn't a political show, though, and it does the 'glossy soap' thing I think it's trying to do quite well. Sure, there are eyebrow-raising moments - when Nick and Maureen share a moment over their mutual hatred of water, for example. But overall the programme looks like it could be fun - especially if it focuses more on the relationship between the Bunnies.
I want to see more of Janie, and Brenda, and Alice. I want to see the friendships and rivalries that come from working in the Club. I want to see Carol-Lynne, period. Whether I'll get that - instead of just a Maureen-Nick will-they-won't-they - will be my big question over the next couple of weeks.
What did you think of The Playboy Club? Leave your comments below!
Watch a preview of next week's episode of The Playboy Club below: