The scene in “Welcome to the Chippendales” is in the middle of the series where we get a clear sense of the appeal of the boyish group. Kumail Nanjiani, playing the group’s founder, Somen “Steve” Banerjee, sits and watches the action around him. “I’m sitting in the Chippendale chair,” Steve says with a smug look on his face. The dancers took the name of their act from a Rococo furniture designer. He is dressed very handsomely, and a servant drops a bottle of champagne into the ice bucket; For Steve Chippendales, creating is all about achieving a clean lifestyle.
Except… that’s not all the Chippendales are, or what it stands for in the public imagination. And this eight-episode episode tends to leave something on the table by treating Steve’s rise to power and his efforts to hold onto it as background noise to some of the most interesting special-dancing events in history. It’s not that Steve Banerjee isn’t convincing or that Nanjiani plays a weak role, but he’s interesting in a different way, and Nanjiani plays a completely straight role. The fact that the Chippendales gave women freedom and happiness, as opposed to the payment to a man, sometimes seems lost.
This series is in the vein of “Pam and Tommy” from executive producers including Robert Siegel and Jenny Conner. It moves in a more or less straight line through the events of half-remembered pop-cultural arcana. Here, we begin with Somen Banerjee’s attempt to find his way to success in Los Angeles nightlife. A meeting with nightclub promoter Paul Snyder (Dan Stevens) and his wife Dorothy Stratton (Nicola Peltz Beckham) prompts him to push harder, as he finally concludes that Snyder is a fraud. The man wears a fake Rolex, a dead giveaway to someone like Steve that solid Chippendale craftsmanship in everything. Later, when Annalee Ashford’s Irene, Steve’s wife, trains him in affirmations and mantras, “I wear a Rolex!,” materialism is a point of pride. He trained Irene for big-time success; Earlier, she made a list of ways the club misses opportunities to extract money from patrons – they have to pour weak drinks and lots of ice.
This means that Chippendale-chair accuracy is only important off and on; The adoption of the “Steve” moniker suggests the show’s perspective that Banerjee was running from something, even if the familial relationship told the cliché of the disaffected parent with aplomb. It may be difficult to know about the Chippendales club, which is so embarrassing for the Banerjee family; The dance is shot in a human-like manner without much charge or pretence. It’s a surprising choice in a post-“Magic Mike” world. The dances, here, give us evidence that the Chippendales are crowd pleasers, not to seduce or charm us. It’s a problem for the show; Say, Juliet Lewis’ character, who eventually becomes the choreographer’s (Murray Bartlett) creative partner, is first loved by the dancers as a fan. Looking at the same unknown numbers to us, it’s not always clear what she’s looking at.
An interesting crime story is woven into the history of the Chippendales. It’s one I won’t spoil, as it’s at the center of this series, but it’s about Steve’s greed and complacency, and his inability to live with his rivals. The problem is that the show has that true-crime plot as its backbone, but no pulse or libido. A show called “Welcome to the Chippendales” should not miss opportunities to entertain or amuse us. Instead, like the drinks Irene serves, this tale feels watered down.
“Welcome to the Chippendales” premieres with its first two episodes on Tuesday, November 22 on Hulu with new episodes to follow each week.