FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE WELCOME TO CHIPPENDALES, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
The behind-the-scenes story of Chippendales is one perfectly tailored for the silver screen treatment. It’s got everything you could want in a true crime saga: sex, drugs, fraud, arson, murder and of course, male strippers dancing around in thongs. It’s the type of twisted tale which proves that truth is Stranger than Fiction. In just the last two years A&E and Discovery have churned out their own Chippendales docuseries and there is also supposedly a feature film on the way, starring Elle Fanning and Seth Rogen. So, if you hadn’t known the story before, you certainly will soon… if Hollywood has any say in it.
Hulu has beat Rogen to the punch though, with their eight-episode limited series Welcome to Chippendales. And I must admit that I had seen the A&E docuseries Secrets of the Chippendale Murders, before watching this… so, I was fully aware of everything that goes down here. But, that did not take away from my enjoyment of this fictionalized account. This is a sleazy, flashy, and sprawling production that had me glued to my screen from beginning to end… though I can’t help, but wish that the show didn’t take itself so seriously.
FROM THE CREATOR OF PAM & TOMMY…
Welcome to Chippendales is created by Robert Siegel, who just this year gave us the equally-as-sordid Pam & Tommy. If you haven’t seen my review of that series, while I was enamored by the performances of Lily James and Sebastian Stan… I thought it was way too long and messy; though many of my peers were much more impressed. So, although I knew the story of Chippendales had so much potential, I wasn’t completely sold on the showrunner. Luckily Siegel has taken what worked about Pam & Tommy; the exemplary production design and period detail, along with an A-list cast allowed to chew the scenery… And has mostly improved on what didn’t. It certainly helps that this true crime story is a lot more involving and complex than the release of a sex tape, though.
DOES THIS SERIES GIVE US REAL INSIGHT INTO THESE CHARACTERS?
I appreciate that Welcome to Chippendales is really able to take a deep dive into the things that talking heads in the documentaries can only do so much justice to. Not only do we get to see the rise and fall of Steve Banerjee’s vision of Chippendales, but also how and why the man became this paranoid control freak and notorious criminal. We get to see Banerjee go back to India for his father’s funeral and experience the interactions with his disappointed mother; who greatly impacts his obsession to be successful. We encounter the blatant and vile racism he endures in America, and how that later molds his racist business model for the company. This series does not just jump from one important plot point to the next, it does an exceptional job of allowing us into this man’s corrupted psyche along the way.
HOW ARE KUMAIL NANJIANI & MURRAY BARTLETT?
It wouldn’t have worked, however, without the fully-committed performance from Kumail Nanjiani. The talented actor who finally got to show off his real chops in The Big Sick is able to really sink his teeth into this role. Steve Banerjee is not the showiest character to take on, as he was an uptight, rigid man that came off as extremely uncharismatic in interviews… yet Nanjiani is perfectly able to capture all of the nuances of this role, and relishes in his more nefarious scenes.
On the other side of the coin is Murray Bartlett as the magnetic larger-than-life Nick de Noia. The Emmy-winning White Lotus star was born to play the Emmy-winning Chippendales choreographer… and there may just be another Emmy on the way for his performance here. Although de Noia is quite similar to Bartlett’s other characters in The White Lotus and Physical… and some might say he is merely playing the same role over and over again… the charming, high-strung, vigorous gay man with maniacal tendencies. You cannot deny that he is just so damn enthralling to watch.
DOES THIS SHOW TAKE ITSELF TOO SERIOUSLY?
My biggest qualm with Welcome to Chippendales is that this missed the ample opportunity to take advantage of the setting. While the eighties flourishes are flawlessly realized, the venue of Chippendales itself is so rife with exploration… and this series fails to embrace it fully. The dance numbers and set pieces leave much to be desired, giving off the impression that the showrunners were much more interested in the crimes, than the establishment.
If Welcome to Chippendales had taken a page from Magic Mike’s playbook, and put just as much care into the stage performances as it did the narrative… This could’ve been a wildly entertaining romp that would keep you coming back for return visits. But, as is… it’s very heavy with its subject matter, only taking minor detours here and there for the frivolity. Whereas, I feel like it should have been the other way around. I also think the first half of this series, where we see the beginnings of the company and our ragtag team come together, is much more engaging than the latter half. Basically, it’s much more fun to watch the rise, than it is the fall.
IS WELCOME TO CHIPPENDALES WORTH WATCHING?
Even so, if you are a fan of the true crime genre… there is a big chance you are going to love this. While it might be a little more dour than it ought to be for a show centered around male strippers, it’s still a far cry from the bleak and grisly tales that usually populate this space. And that makes this series refreshingly different.
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