'Welcome to Chippendales' Strips Down the Dance Troupe's Dark History Created by Robert Siegel
Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett, Annaleigh Ashford, Juliette Lewis, Dan Stevens, Nicola Peltz Beckham
Published Nov 22, 2022Some stories are so absurd that if a Hollywood writer pitched it, they'd be laughed right out of Hulu's offices. An immigrant story where the protagonist starts a male strip club and stops at nothing to achieve his goal of fame and glory sounds a bit too on-the-nose with details far too outlandish, even for Disney. But a quick search of Somen "Steve" Banerjee will turn up a story more outrageous than fiction about one of the most well-known brands in adult entertainment.
Across eight episodes, Welcome to Chippendales details the rise and fall of Steve, played by Kumail Nanjiani. When we first meet Steve, he's working at a gas station with $45,000 in savings. Rather than do the expected and open up his own gas station, he uses his money to purchase a nightclub, Destiny II. Under Steve, Destiny II goes through different iterations. Starting as a high-end backgammon club, it also becomes home to women's mud wrestling and eating contests. Steve, along with his first business partner Paul Snider (Dan Stevens), are at a loss as to how to make the business succeed until one auspicious night at a gay club.
After seeing Paul's girlfriend, Playboy Playmate and actress Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham), become enamoured with a striptease, Steve strikes upon the idea to open a male strip club for women — the first of its kind. While Paul is hesitant at first, Destiny II becomes Chippendales and is a flying success.
Eventually, Steve meets Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett), an Emmy award-winning choreographer, and hires him to elevate the stripteases to full-scale performances. Over the next 10 years, Steve and Nick turn Chippendales into an international sensation with touring groups around the world and locations across the country. Behind the bow ties and tearaway trousers, though, is an unhealthy fixation on fame and celebrity. A man consumed with envy and insecurity, Steve is led to the darkest corners of morality, guided by his ego and narcissism.
Welcome to Chippendales is a star-raising project for Nanjiani. He plays Steve with just the right touch of good-natured innocence betrayed by stunning arrogance. Typically known for his comedy, Nanjiani's dramatic skills are put to good use as he navigates the moral greys of who Steve is as a husband, father, businessman, American and Indian with compelling complexity.
Bartlett's turn as Nick is another winning performance. A seemingly sleazy character, Bartlett introduces a warmth to Nick that effectively pulls at empathetic threads. Juliette Lewis and Annaleigh Ashford round out the core cast with heartfelt and entertaining turns; Ashford in particular is very endearing as Steve's wife, Irene.
With so many comedic actors in tow, it's understandable to think that Welcome to Chippendales will bring gallows humour to this murky story. However, it's just the opposite. There is no forced humour, nor is there a documentary-esque retelling of the events. Instead, creator Robert Siegel opts to simply have the story play out with little excess (save for the fun dance routines). In doing so, Chippendales separates itself from the many overwrought true crime dramatizations that have become common place in recent years.
Because of this simplistic storytelling, no particular aspect of Steve's story is explored in great depth. Each episode moves through the different events as if driving through waypoints without stopping to take in any of the sights. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Siegel and his directors tells Steve's story with a detachment for the man and his cause that provides a different take on the true crime shows and movies that seek to find sympathy for a monster.
Siegel also takes time to consider some of the social issues within the story, including the fetishization of Black men and Steve's internal battle with his heritage and new home. These detours are organically presented and thoughtfully played out, creating a well-rounded show.
For those who know the story of the Somen Banarjee, Welcome to Chippendales is an entertaining ride to a destination already visited. For those of us who had no idea of the dance troupe's dark origins, it's an intriguing tale paved with shirt cuffs and greased-up abs. (Disney)