remember the Chippendales, the male strippers who became a global sensation before Magic Mike was out of diapers? Washboard abs, bow ties without a matching shirt and oh so much grinding?
Growing up in the nineties, the squad was already naff, a punchline. So for those, like me, unaware of the dark heart of the phenomenon’s creation story, Disney+’s new show Welcome to Chippendales came as a complete surprise.
Although less surprising after learning, the eight-part miniseries was adapted from the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by K Scot Macdonald and Patrick MondesDeOca, a story about the rise and fall of the club’s founder, who takes in money, drugs, murder and arson.
We meet Somen Banerjee, an Indian immigrant who changes his name to Steve, who works at a gas station in the early eighties, and saves every penny to open a backgammon club while trying to emulate his idol Hugh Hefner.
After a series of failed attempts to bring in the players – from oyster eating contests to female mud wrestling – he is inspired to stage a male strip show for women, and the phenomenon is born.
Combine a kitsch sensation, which still has big name recognition, true crime drama and an eighties and nineties aesthetic, and you have studio catnip. So it’s absolutely no surprise that this story has been given a glossy streaming makeover.
Additionally, the reassessment of how the recent(ish) past was much more toxic than we remember is familiar ground for the show’s creator Robert Siegel. He is also behind last year’s miniseries Pam & Tommy, which focused on the theft of the infamous sex tape with Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee and the fallout for everyone involved.
If anything, Welcome to Chippendales has even more drama and excitement, as few will already know the central figure of Banerjee, played by stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani (star of Eternals and The Big Sick, which he co-wrote), and how his story unfolds.
This is real acting training for Nanjiani, and he pulls it off. Hans Banerjee is a perennial outsider who wants to belong. He is insular and awkward, rarely cracks a smile, but has a single-mindedness that takes him from being a gas station to great wealth. He also has a darkness that sets the tragic chain of events in motion
But this is no solo car. Playing Banerjee’s foil Nick De Noia, the choreographer who brings the “production values” to Chippendales is the ever brilliant Murray Bartlett. In his drapes and Aviators, he’s unrecognizable from his recent show-stealing turn as hotel manager Armond in the first series of White Lotus, but is still just as watchable.
Other great turns include Juliette Lewis as a seamstress who comes up with the idea of tear-off stripper pants, sure to split the male exotic dance game. Dan Stevens appears as business partner Paul Snider, and Nicola Peltz Beckham, who plays his girlfriend Dorothy Stratten, lights up the show. For fans of true crime podcasts, these names may also ring a bell, heralding what’s to come in the series.
This creation story of this stripping phenomenon has broader themes of the American Dream and how it can go sour, as well as the destructive impact of toxic masculinity, long before the term was invented. In fact, the least toxic men in the show are the ones charging around the stage with their tops off and big goofy grins on their faces, singing “Give your love to a cowboy man.”
The world of eighties LA is brilliantly recreated, and from the four episodes I had access to, and while there have been rumblings that the show didn’t need eight hours to tell its story, I’m along for the rest of this wild ride .
Welcome to the Chippendales airs on Disney+ from January 11