There’s a scene in Hulu’s limited series Welcome to Chippendales where some women in the audience commented that the song-and-dance routine the dancers are doing is getting old because they’ve performed it many times already. That could be a good explanation for the series which tries to be Boogie Nights but lacks the excitement that movie brought and ends up becoming something like 54.
Part of the problem of the series created by Robert Siegel is that it expects everyone going in to know the sordid details of the nightclub’s management under its founder Somen “Steve” Banajaree (Kumail Nanjiani). The events just come up on the screen without any real spontaniety or intrique. It’s like someone telling you a story by saying, “And then this happened and then this happened and and then this happened.” It gets boring after a while.
Steve was an Indian immigrant who had bigger dreams than managing convenience stores. He saved money but opened a backgammon club that went bust before he met Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) and his young wife, Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz) a Playboy playmate. When accidentally going into a gay male nightclub, Steve had an idea to open up a strip club for women only. But during the early days, the club Chippendales with Paul as the emcee were sleazy until Steve met Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett who is one of the series’ best moments).
Nick had two Emmys from working on children’s programs. He also was coming out of his shell as an open gay man. He was able to choreograph a dance routine and fire Paul which brought in more money and class to the bar. However, Paul would kill Dorothy during a murder-suicide hinting the violence that would happen later in the club’s history. Tension rise between Steve and Nick almost instantly as Nick was to handle to entertainment side while Steve was to focus on the business.
But it’s evident Steve doesn’t know how to run a nightclub. He meets his future wife, Irene (Annaleigh Ashford who is another delight to see in every scene) when she becomes his accountant after showing him ways he can use more ice on drinks to save money. Yet, greed as well as the egos of both Steve and Nick collide. Also, the series hints that Steve might have been very racist against black people as he would instill a VIP service to keep black men out when they began to allow men into the bar.
There’s also a dancer, Otis (in a wonderful performance by Quentin Pair) who comes into the series but exits almost as soon as he is introduced when Steve refuses to put him in the calendar. Steve’s excuse is that it might be dangerous to have a half-naked black man in a calendar on the walls of white women in middle America. Another employee, Roy Colon (Robin de Jesus) overacts in most of his scenes as Steve’s loyal employee that the role is almost comical.
Nanjiani, himself, never really manages to make Steve into anything more than an Indian caricature. You never really do get a feeling who Steve was. While the series doesn’t romanticize his awful deeds, it never really makes Steve into a bad guy, just more of a cartoonish character. When Nick is given more credit for founding Chippendales, you can sense they were showing Steve was a victim of the same racism he showed other people. But the series tiptoes around this.
And it tiptoes around a lot of things, expecting us just to know certain things as when Steve printed calendars all with 31 days in the months and accepted a contract written on a napkin between him and Nick for a traveling Chippendales show that would get Nick more money. These incidents probably needed more attention. But the series is trying to follow the same format of every “based on a true story” movie and series that it never has its own look and style.
It also tries to push the envelope by showing explicit man-on-man sex scenes that in 2022-2023 don’t seem as groundbreaking as it did 40 years ago. And the sex scenes lack the eroticism the production was going for. Nick meets and falls in love with a wealthy man, Bradford Barton (Andrew Rannells) but it also seems there is a love triangle between Nick and Denise (Juliette Lewis) that goes nowhere. Denise is a frequent patron who soon helps Nick develop the break-away trousers for the strippers.
It’s still watchable mostly for the performance by Ashford, Bartlett and Pair who keep the series from becoming routine that the Weird Al Yankovic movie was supposed to be parodying. I think if the series had been told more from Nick’s point of view or Irene’s, it might have given us something different. Instead, we get about six hours of something someone could easily read on Wikipedia in six minutes.
What do you think? Please comment.