With an edgy ’70s vibe and pulsating disco beat, creator Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) opens up a Pandora’s box of sexual liberation in Welcome to Chippendales, his new original series streaming on Disney+ starting January 11.
It’s a slickly produced and dynamically stylized dip into the world of Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), the founder of America’s first all-female strip club.
Produced by Emily V. Gordon (Little America) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Eternals), Welcome to Chippendales follows Steve Banerjee from gas station attendant to strip club mastermind through concise storytelling. It delves deep into the connections, coincidences and inspired bits of business acumen that ultimately create an empire.
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As writer Robert Siegel and director Matt Shakman (WandaVision) shape these opening episodes, you’re drawn into this uninhibited world, watching first Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) and then Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) join the enterprise. One is a charlatan who makes promises without foundation, while the other adds Emmy Award-winning panache to the proceedings through some expert choreography.
With an air of creative revolution happening on the fringes of this show, as film directors like Peter Bogdanovich (Philip Shahbaz) came along, Welcome to Chippendales feels like it captures a specific moment in time. But when Paul Snider and his Playboy centerfold partner Dorothy Stratton (Nicola Peltz Beckham) fall by the wayside, this elaborate dramatization soon takes another exciting turn.
Gone is the tempestuous Snider with his tasteless introductions and petty jealousies, only to be replaced by a love interest in Annaleigh Ashford’s Irene. Businesswoman, voice of reason and future wife for Steve, she looks to her for stability as his venture quickly becomes a California phenomenon. It’s an addition that soon brings costume designer and Nick De Noia wingwoman Denise (Juliette Lewis) into the fold.
What becomes clear as this series unfolds, beyond the seminal revelation of male objectification as big business, is how much the series succeeds because of excellent casting. Kumail Nanjiani gives a career-best turn as the razor-sharp Steve Banerjee, using a combination of personable put-downs and ruthless alpha-male tactics when necessary.
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Elsewhere, Dan Stevens makes an impressive early impact as Paul Snider – alongside Nicola Peltz Beckham’s Dorothy Stratton – leaving no scenery unchewed every moment he’s on screen. By comparison, his platinum blonde playmate is both modest and gentile, along with the mass of male insecurities she effortlessly exudes.
However, Murray Bartlett’s Nick De Noia is arguably the one that people will remember after those credits roll. As an Emmy Award-winning choreographer on the wane, there is no small amount of pathos evident in this depiction. As a bisexual man at the height of the ’70s sexual revolution, his character veers from opportunistic grifter to disaffected creative force.
There’s a touch of Boogie Nights in the period-specific production design, not to mention hat tips to Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and the uneven charm of A Chorus Line in the early dance rehearsals. Murray Bartlett stands toe to toe with Kumail Nanjiani, ensuring that these character actors collide creatively as Welcome to Chippendales builds to a crescendo.
As the influence of this pioneering male revue filters through to New York and Chippendales begins to feel like a global brand, Robert Siegel keeps every ounce of drama under control. In that moment, this Disney+ original transforms into a full-fledged character study, as tragedy threatens to undo everything Steve Banerjee has built up to this point.
When Banerjee is away in India trying to reconcile his cultural responsibilities with his success abroad, Irene is encouraged to let loose. Immersed in the cocaine culture of the time, Nick and Denise succeed in creating a professional rift that never really heals.
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In every way, this dramatization adapted from the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by Patrick MontesDeOca and K. Scott McDonald screams quality. While the theme may smack of 70s exploitation kitsch, this show also celebrates innovation over adversity – a defining characteristic of the American Dream, which tries to convince anyone with drive and ambition that they can achieve greatness.
Beyond that, Welcome to Chippendales is another example of TV drama that really benefits from this storytelling mode. As film and television take their first tentative steps into 2023, audiences can take comfort in the fact that Disney+ and its subsidiaries have their fingers on the creative pulse.
With The Last of Us launching just a week or so later and Rian Johnson’s Pokerface on the horizon, this year already promises to exceed expectations.
Welcome to the Chippendales is available to stream on Disney+ from January 11.
Watch a trailer below.