How To Salvage A Great Show From The Wreckage Of ‘The Playboy Club’

I’m not actually sorry The Playboy Club has been cancelled, because it is not at all a good show, and I am excited to be able to go to bed earlier on Mondays rather than stay up and watch Amber Heard and Eddie Cibrian try to act. The show was tonally inconsistent; shortchanged plotlines that didn’t deal with its weakest element, a melodramatic and poorly-acted murder mystery; and had some profoundly awful dialogue writing. It deserved to die, totally independent of concerns about how it dealt with women, or glamorized sex, or was essentially a marketing campaign.

That said, there is a really good show buried in The Playboy Club that I’d like to see someone try to resurrect: a period show about early gay rights organizations. This is a story that can, and should be told, and that lends itself beautifully to multiple dramatic arcs. In fact, you could keep the kernel of that story that exists in The Playboy Club, blow it up, and adapt it, so that the story centers on the Mattachine Society chapter. Have one character who works at The Playboy Club (or a comparable fictional institution), hiding her lesbianism in an institution dedicated to the promotion and celebration of heterosexuality through extremely gendered performances. And have her fall for a society figure who’s trying to stay in the closet. Have another character be on the rise in city politics, building political power he hopes to call in later. Have someone be a federal employee fired for their sexual orientation — Frank Kameny’s still around after all, and I’m sure would be a feisty assist to anyone playing a young him — a turn of events that forces the society to action.

Seriously, this would be such a good show for HBO, or for LOGO, if they wanted a high-end period drama. The storylines that could come out of the core drama of people struggling to grab their dignity and fight for their civil rights at a time when their existence is criminalized would be incredibly powerful. We should rewrite the narrative that shows gay people cringing in their individual closets in the late 1950s or early 1960s not because that wasn’t anyone’s experience, but because it wasn’t the sum total of all gay people’s experiences. It’s almost a gay version of The Help. African-Americans didn’t win their civil rights because kindly white people saved them. And the gay rights movement didn’t spontaneously generate at Stonewall.