The wave of drama series based on real headlines, often about criminals or con artists, continues with ‘Welcome to Chippendales’fictional alternative to the incredible saga of greed, thongs, drugs and crime which the documentarian Jesse Vile already told us in his recent and highly recommended series ‘The Curse of the Chippendales’ (can be found at Movistar Plus+).
As in his hit ‘Pam & Tommy’, the screenwriter robert siegel (‘The Fighter’) balances absurd humor and sincere emotion to tell a story that is impossible to invent. Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee’s (kumail nanjiani), taciturn Indian immigrant who, in his pursuit of the vaunted American dream, went from working at a gas station to founding a male striptease business emporium. Business he tried to keep afloat and under his control through arson and assassination plots.
According to the version of the series, it was not the unfortunate Paul Snider (danny stevens), aspiring night promoter and future assassin of the famous ‘playmate’ Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz), who in the late 1970s suggested Banerjee liven up his emaciated West Coast club with a women-only lap dance show. Steve himself has the big idea here after a somewhat forced visit to a gay club. In any case, Chippendales, club and dance troupe, only reached its optimum level after the appearance of the choreographer (and producer of children’s television with a couple of Emmy awards) Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett, from ‘The White Lotus’), who moved the phenomenon to New York after giving it a patina of professionalism. Banerjee welcomed the changes while watching with suspicion as De Noia appropriated the concept of him in the mainstream media. Caught in a spiral of jealousy and fear of failure, the once affable entrepreneur made somewhat hasty decisions.
If with ‘The Great Love Sickness’, co-written by himself, Kumail Nanjiani managed to show that an actor of Pakistani origins could be more than just a delivery boy, taxi driver or terrorist in an American production, here he successfully faces his most complex role till the date. The temptation of parody is present and sometimes it cannot be avoided, but Nanjiani knows how to embody Banerjee as a pressure cooker of low self-esteem and class and race anxiety.
In the relative background, a host of great actors embroider characters (many of them fictitious or slightly real) in the orbit of that tumultuous nucleus. shine the great Annaleigh Ashford as Irene, an accountant who ends up being more than just a business colleague for Steve; juliette lewis as receptionist/costume designer Denise, based in part on associate producer Candace Mayeron, or Andrew Rannells as (invented) New York Chippendales investor with a passion for Stephen Sondheim.
Eroticism, illicit substances and disco music extra: this could have been ‘Boogie Nights: The Series’except that the director Matt Shakman (‘Scarlet Witch and Vision’) sets some unexciting visual patterns; he does not have fun with the times or with the camera, except for some long zoom or some shot with a crane of nightlife that refers to the Palm of ‘Trapped by his past’ and the El Paraíso club. Its hallucinogenic sequence of credits, with that great main theme in a disco key signed by Siddhartha Khosla (‘Only murders in the building’), promises a spectacular series that hasn’t just arrived.
Welcome to Chippendales ★★★
Creator: robert siegel
Direction: Matt Shakman, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Nisha Ganatra, Richard Shepard
Distribution: Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett, Annaleigh Ashford, Juliette Lewis
Duration: 45 min. (8 episodes)
Premiere: January 11, 2023 (Disney+)