Produced in part by Kumail Nanjiani (The Eternals) and Emily V. Gordon (Little America), Welcome to Chippendales hits Hulu from Nov. 22 with lashings of 70s chic.
Telling the tale of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, creator Robert Siegel (Pam & Tommy) laces his story with pioneering spirit and a unique approach to male objectification. One that not only made cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale famous for more than furniture, but foreshadowed Magic Mike by several decades.
Taking a leaf from Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, this raunchy rags-to-riches saga makes sure to honor the source material. Inspired by Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders from K Scot McDonald and Patrick Montes DeOca, it allows Nanjiani to get beneath the skin of founder Banerjee – an American immigrant with Indian ancestry, who covets more than his own chain of gas stations.
Plunging his life savings into a backgammon club, Banerjee westernizes his name and makes inroads into the Californian club scene. With a slick suit, big ideas and ambitions to match – this polished biopic quickly immerses itself in the 70s culture. Nanjiani captures the enigmatic presence of this understated pioneer, as he has a series of fortuitous encounters.
First with Paul Snider, a scenery-chewing Dan Stevens who is all front and no foundation, to the closeted Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett), who comes onboard one night when he stumbles into Chippendales out of curiosity.
With Playmate model of the year Dorothy Stratton (Nicola Peltz Beckham) also a firm fixture, both Snider and Banerjee initially seem to have hit paydirt with the idea. With the addition of De Noia and his Emmy winning expertise in dance choreography, this burgeoning idea soon flourishes into a potential franchise.
However, with success comes jealousy and professional competition. Where this Hulu original excels, beyond getting those period specific elements perfect, is through characterization. Nanjiani, Stevens and Bartlett all work exceptionally well together in their respective roles, counterbalancing cool detachment with impetuous unpredictability. As Chippendales begins to balloon and one solid business idea after another increases revenue, emotions threaten to derail their working relationship.
Merchandising, staff ambition and perceived power struggles soon add drama into the mix, as internal dynamics begin to disintegrate. With the addition of Irene (Annaleigh Ashford), who comes aboard as an accountant and love interest for Banerjee, these waters are muddied further as this new couple begin thinking bigger.
Other elements which strengthen this series include the choice of dramatic focus, as Welcome to Chippendales is driven solely by character. Like some, if not all the best pieces of programming, story is central to what makes this show work. That the drama revolves around the evolution of male stripping as an industry is secondary to the circumstances which made it happen.
As much as there is objectification of men in this show, nothing feels gratuitous, or seeks to exploit from a narrative perspective. The drama is defined by characters who exist within this business, rather than making anything seedy from the circumstances. Granted there is a degree of era-specific promiscuity, which goes some way to underpinning the 70s vibe, but in the main Welcome to Chippendales is unconcerned with exposing unnecessary amounts of skin.
Similar to Winning Time, this ode to empire building (which could sit alongside The Founder starring Michael Keaton) seeks to celebrate pioneering spirits. Those people who had a moment of inspiration where ideas and opportunity combined, not only paving the way for others to follow, but reminding audiences that anything is possible.
In a culture where everything is instantly available and criticism is favored over encouragement, Welcome to Chippendales aims to prove people wrong. Opportunities exist everywhere in this world, even if chances to innovate might not seem obvious at first glance. Contemporary pioneers might have missed the boat when it comes to profiting off gender equality, but underneath all those pairs of tear away pants and oiled torsos something much more fundamental is happening.
Chippendales is there to remind audiences about the power of imagination. Stripping, just like every other form of entertainment, is about idolizing the apparently unobtainable. Allowing a paying audience to indulge in some escapism, while they enjoy the collective closeness of like-minded people – sounds a bit like cinema to me.
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