The history behind Chippendales is one that is ripe to be made into a movie or limited series. To quote Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “It’s a story of greed, sex and murder.” And it all started during the Me Generation, the era of the Sexual Revolution as it was common to see people having sex opening in discos and nightclubs. What an era that was
And it all started with a young ambitious Indian immigrant, Somen “Steve” Banjaree, played by Kumail Ninjiani in the Hulu series Welcome to Chippendales. Starting out in America as a gas station/convenience store worker and manager, he saves every cent he can because he has dreams of opening his own club. But there are problems. For one, Steve thinks people would want to play backgammon, smoke cigars and drink alcohol. It’s a little bit humorous because we know it’s going to fail.
That is until he meets a young, flashy man Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) whose wife, Dorothy Stratten (Nicolia Pelitz) is a model. Steve thinks Paul is slick because he claims to know Hugh Hefner as Dorothy has posed for Playboy. But if you know this story, you know it doesn’t have a happy ending. After setting up several gimmicks, including mud wrestling tournaments and binge eating contests, they go to a gay club to get away. And then Steve has a Eureka moment as he watches a man dance thinking they can get women into the club by having men strip.
And the club is a success despite having men who are just crudely gyrating around drunk woman as they shove cash in their pants. Then, Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) walks in and he claims that he can do better work. De Noia has two Emmys from working on children’s programs and Steve wants him to choreograph a better show. But that also includes dropping Snider as the emcee as De Noia seems him as too creepy. The real Snider was a sleazebag. I suggest you see Eric Roberts play in him Bob Fosse’s Star 80 with Mariel Hemingway as Stratten if you want to find out more about this story.
This all ends with Snider killing Stratten before himself. And this is just the first episode of an eight-episode series. That’s the problem. It’s moving too fast. In actuality, Snider and Stratten had already separated by the time of the murder-suicide on Aug. 14, 1980. And it happened during the daytime as Snider’s roommates were away not late at night. By the end of the third episode that just aired on Nov. 29, Steve and Nick are already breaking apart as Nick is on his way to New York City. I don’t know what direction series creator Robert Siegel is taking but the show seems to be moving too quickly.
I know I criticized Tulsa King for moving too slow but Chippendales is moving way too fast for a series. Maybe it’s because this story has been told too many times before in Boogie Nights, 54 and Rated X, to name a few from this era. Drugs, sex and greed take a hold and then there’s a difference of opinion on matters. It’s a classic tale from this era.
The second episode introduces Otis (Quentin Plair), the only black male dancer, who is impressed by Steve’s way of doing business when he gets a church to protest outside so it’ll be covered by local media. There’s also Steve’s love interest and accountant, Irene (Annaleigh Ashford bringing the same small-town Betty Homemaker vibe she did as Paula Jones in Impeachment) who shows Steve that by pouring more ice in Long Island Iced Teas, he can save about $3,000 a month. Oh, there’s also Denise (Juliette Lewis), a wild older woman who designs the break-away pants for the strippers.
Bartlett is a joy to watch as Nick but Nanjiani seems to be still be finding his footing as Steve. He’s mostly done comedies and now he’s having to play the straight man. I don’t know if the real Banjaree may have been the stiff shirt Nanjiani portrays him. A scene in which he returns to Bombay for his father’s funeral opens some insight on how he didn’t want to follow in his parent’s footsteps. His refusal to take a higher job managing gas station seems that Steve didn’t want to work jobs Indian people were traditionally expected to. Lewis is a little too much as Denise but I feel it’s to showcase the atmospher of the time.
However, Ashford and Plair seem to be the biggest surprises in their roles. Ashford really portrays this Middle-American housewife aura that was all too common even in the 1970s. It’s odd that she would even end up married to Steve, much the less even going into Chippendales in the first place. And Plair turns Otis into a man who saw himself more than a piece of meat. While the other dancers seem to enjoy it, he sees it as a stepping stone to something else. Plair was absent from the third episode as we’re introduced to Ray Colon (Robin de Jesus) who would go one to do some awful things for Steve that I’m not going to say but you can probably Google it. I’d like to see how Otis is going to factor in as it seems Ray is cozying up to Steve.
Hopefully, the rest of the series builds on the momentum so far the right way.
What do you think? Please comment.