‘Welcome to Chippendales’ review: Colorful Hulu series depicts dance troupe’s deadly origins

With “Pam & Tommy”, “Dopesick”, “Candy”, “The Act”, “The Dropout” and “Under the Banner of Heaven” et al., Hulu is on a roll with biographical limited series telling fictionalized versions of well-known events and scandals. The run continues with the colorful and bright but increasingly dark and twisted ‘Welcome to Chippendales’, which tells the gory behind-the-scenes story of the legendary all-male dance troupe that formed in the late 1970s. , flourished in the 1980s and 1990s and enjoyed continued success in theaters around the world.

Showrunners Robert Siegel (“Pam & Tommy”) and Jenni Konner (“Girls”) have created an addictive, if not sometimes cheesy, slice of the Americana period piece (repeat songs like “Superfreak” and “Sharp Dressed Man “), featuring the solid work of Kumail Nanjiani as Chippendales founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee, and a stellar supporting cast led by Murray Bartlett, Juliette Lewis and Annaleigh Ashford.

“Welcome to Chippendales” features a number of imagined conversations and scenarios. But the major events depicted here really happened, which makes the ride all the more fascinating and crazy. Many times when Nanjiani’s Banerjee is faced with a major decision, you want to yell at him to do the right thing – and, almost every time, he makes it worse.

“Welcome to Chippendales”

Nanjiani (“The Big Sick,” “Eternals”) plays against type and delivers the most complex and impressive performance of his career as Steve, an Indian immigrant who, in the 1970s, operates a gas station Mobil in the Los Angeles area. He has saved a huge percentage of his income while living in a cramped apartment where the walls are covered with advertisements and magazine articles touting the fast life, from BMW cars to Kent cigarettes to Arrow shirts, photos of his idol, Hugh Hefner, and articles. with titles such as “How to throw the perfect party”.

Steve opens a backgammon club: “an establishment where people [can] gather to play in a sophisticated setting. Velvet sofas, cigar bar… an elegant and exclusive atmosphere. It’s the first of many indications that Steve’s vision is about as sleek and upscale as a pile of old Playboy magazines gathering mold in the garage.

The backgammon club is a bust and in danger of shutting down when Paul Snider (Dan Stevens), a petty hustler with a fake Rolex and a big mouth, and Snider’s girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham), the recently crowned Playboy Playmate of the year. Steve is easily impressed by Snider and falls in love with his obnoxious shtick, and the pair team up, trying (and failing) with gimmicks such as disco dancing, mud wrestling, and an oyster-eating contest before that an outing to a gay club would provide Steve with his Lightbulb Moment: “A women’s strip club.” There are a million strip clubs for men in Los Angeles but not one for women.

At first, Chippendales is a decidedly low-end undertaking, featuring a small troupe of eager but not particularly talented men stripping to the sound of “Macho Man” in a setting that resembles a half-finished suburban basement. , with Raw Snider playing the role of MC. . (At the end of the first episode, Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider’s story came to its gruesome conclusion, with Snider murdering Stratten before committing suicide.)

Steve wants something classier, bigger, something that will make a splash – and he finds a promising partner in a Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett, fresh off his supporting actor Emmy for “The White Lotus”), a TV choreographer with a career in decline but a real knack for creating smooth, well-executed dance routines. Nick brings Denise from Juliette Lewis on board to help with marketing, while the bottom line continues to grow thanks in large part to the business acumen of Irene from Annaleigh Ashford, who takes care of the accounts and eventually becomes the wife of Steve.

Choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett, left, with Quentin Plair as dancer) becomes the public face of Chippendales.

Yet even as the Chippendales empire explodes and expands, we see signs of Steve’s deeply troubled personality in his racism towards black people, his deep-rooted insecurities and seething jealousy of Nick, who becomes known as “Mister Chippendales”. made the rounds on the TV talk show circuit. (The recreations of Nick’s talk show appearances, with actors impersonating Phil Donahue, Geraldo, Sally Jessy Raphael and Gene Shalit from “Today,” are so bad they’re pretty awesome.)

Nanjiani does a masterful job of capturing a man who is never comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t like having to work twice as hard as everyone else but not getting enough credit. Steve sips his Coke and rages against everything and everyone, while Nick and Denise and Nick’s rich new boyfriend (Andrew Rannells) snort coke and party and ride the wave.

Steve becomes so consumed with rage and jealousy that he orders separate hits on Nick and a group of dancers with a rival troupe. In April 1987, Nick De Noia was shot and killed in his Manhattan office; seven years later, just hours before Steve Banerjee was to be convicted of murder-for-hire, he was found dead in his cell, having hanged himself.

All the light, fun and debauchery of “Welcome to Chippendales” fades into black, as Steve Banerjee’s American Dream turns into a nightmare of its own making.

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