The title Welcome to Chippendales is both an invitation and a warning. Here, you'll find all the chiseled gyrators anyone could want from the most famous male strip club ever erected. But upon entering those doors, you submit to whatever lawlessness awaits. This is no Magic Mike. Beyond the G-strings lie rivalries, resentments, lawsuits, duplicity, and murder. Have a good time!
If prestige television has one abiding trend in 2022, it's the many scandals ripped from headlines and dramatized for our insatiable rubbernecking. This year alone, we've seen medical scams, social scams, corporate fiascos, political intrigue, next-door-neighbor intrigue, teen-relationship intrigue, Mormon murders, mistress murders, sex-tape larceny, noble melodrama, and more. Welcome to Chippendales is the latest extension of pop culture's true-crime infatuation, a phenomenon that exploits viewers' sordid curiosities while satisfying Hollywood's quest for easily marketable IP. Luckily, it has what some of Chippendales' counterparts lack: a saga that has faded from our collective consciousness enough to merit retelling.
The details are nothing if not juicy — the story of a solitary Indian immigrant who idolizes American excess and finally discovers a way to cultivate some glitz for himself, only to see his progress implode because he can't resist unscrupulous business deals and petty malice. Somen "Steve" Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) wanted to be the next Hugh Hefner, wealthy and adored. For a while, he was headed in that direction, graduating from bullied gas-station manager to nightclub impresario with the help of Playboy superstar Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz) and her impulsive pimp-boyfriend (Dan Stevens). But Steve Banerjee had to test his luck, letting his soaring ego go unchecked. We all know the metaphor of Icarus, right?
Premiering Nov. 22 on Hulu, Welcome to Chippendales chronicles Steve's rise and fall in eight jaunty installments. Nanjiani, taking a breather from his jacked Marvel physique, portrays him as both sympathetic and odious, someone incapable of the caution needed to maintain an empire. As shown in the series, the inaugural Chippendales has a humble start, goosed by a cunning PR stunt Steve concocts to score free Los Angeles media attention. It's easy to root for the success such ingenuity can provoke, especially knowing a foreigner's odds are lower than those of his white analogues. But that's Welcome to Chippendales' narrative trick: Anyone can be untrustworthy, including someone chasing a Western ideal fed to him since childhood.
Created and co-written by Robert Siegel, who also spearheaded Pam & Tommy, the show assembles a supporting troupe comprising some of today's most exciting actors. Annaleigh Ashford takes MVP as Steve's girlfriend, whose blonde hair and naive-seeming eyes hide the bookkeeping acumen that takes Chippendales to profitable heights. To enhance the strippers' dance routines, Steve hires Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett), a self-congratulatory choreographer he soon decides is stealing his thunder — frivolous antagonism that leads to their downfall. Nick brings on an enterprising costumer (Juliette Lewis) who invents breakaway pants, and the lot of them fight to take credit for the franchising, merchandising, and international touring that makes Chippendales a household brand. Robin de Jesús, Andrew Rannells, and The Good Lord Bird's Quentin Plair round out the impressive cast.
Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and bloodshed aren't novel bedfellows, but Siegel and his collaborators, which include directors Matt Shakman (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Nisha Ganatra (Transparent), keep Welcome to Chippendales on fertile ground. Set in the early-to-mid '80s, it's a morality tale for that decade's gluttony. So few entrepreneurs had a vested interest in women's desires, and at least one who found a way to serve those desires turned out not to be so fair-minded after all. The details, derived from the 2014 nonfiction book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders, have long been public knowledge. Whereas certain scandal fictionalizations like The Dropout and The Crown can benefit from viewers' foreknowledge, this one rewards ignorance. I wasn't sure which character would snap first and who might suffer along the way.
At times, Chippendales is a bit too jaunty. Not wanting to overstay their welcome, the episodes breeze by, sometimes at the expense of plot nuance. The whole thing can feel crammed, as if the neon glow and cocaine highs are momentum enough. But then Siegel and company will hit us with a searing beat that appropriately shatters the party vibe. Racism, arson, corruption — whatever it may be, we are reminded that a corporation meant to indulge in harmless, horny fun was harboring a menagerie of personalities who didn't honor their clientele's best interests.
On the continuum of scandal-based TV, Welcome to Chippendales is among the more effective offerings. It doesn't overplay its final stretch or try to be more penetrating than it's capable of. The show dresses its sorrowful core in spandex and bow ties, painting a portrait of prosperity undone by pride. What's more American than that?
Premieres: Tuesday, Nov. 22 on Hulu
Who's in it: Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett, Annaleigh Ashford, Juliette Lewis, Andrew Rannells, Robin de Jesús
Who's behind it: Robert Siegel (creator, co-writer), Jenni Konner (co-writer), Rajiv Joseph (co-writer), Matt Shakman (director), Nisha Ganatra (director), Richard Shepard (director)
For fans of: Scandal adaptations like The Dropout and WeCrashed
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8