Collars and Cuffs: Our Review of ‘Welcome to Chippendales’

Posted in Disney +, What's Streaming? by - November 25, 2022
Collars and Cuffs: Our Review of ‘Welcome to Chippendales’

Debuting this week on Disney+ in Canada, and Hulu in the US is the fictionalized series of events behind the sordid past of the worldwide phenomenon known as the Chippendales Male dance troupe, Welcome to Chippendales. The Disney + series starring Kumail Nanjiani comes amidst a flurry of projects about the subject with the highly regarded Curse of the Chippendales documentary series that arrived last year. Not to mention there’s a proposed feature film adaptation, rumored to be starring Seth Rogen and Elle Fanning, from director Craig Gillespie of I Tonya and Pam & Tommy fame. Even A&E produced its own adaptation based on the murders, based on the same book, Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders, that this series uses as its inspiration.

Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee is a big dreamer new to the US. Not content to continue working as an employee, Somen saves all his money to buy a business of his own, a backgammon club. Idolizing Hugh Hefner, Banerjee desperately wants to replicate the relaxed feeling of cool that the Playboy Club and mansion afford their clients, but the club fails to find an audience. Fortunately, he lands a meeting with would-be club promotor/swindler Paul Snider (Dan Stevens). So Somen, now adopting the Steve moniker to sound more American, ends up in a gay club and sees the vision for his future endeavor laid out in front of him. Together with Snider’s girlfriend Dorothy Stratton (Nicola Peltz Beckham), the trio converts the club to the first Chippendales club for women.

Snider ultimately proves to be an unreliable partner and Banerjee looks to improve his club by bringing aboard a professional choreographer Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett). De Noia’s routines elevate the quality of the club, and with the rest of his team assembled, including future wife/accountant Irene (Annaleigh Ashford) and costume designer Denise (Juliette Lewis), Banerjee seems poised to conquer the world.  But petty jealousies, betrayal, in-fighting, fraud, mismanagement, and a whole lot of cocaine (it was the 80s after all) constantly play in Steve’s mind until he finds a loyal disciple and Ray Colon (Robin De Jesus) who will do anything for him, no matter how deadly that might be.

The real life details behind the Chippendales murders and misdeeds of Somen Banerjee are somehow even crazier than what Welcome to Chippendales explores. It simplifies details in some cases and it simplifies the story more. Lewis’ Denise is an amalgamation of multiple employees, as is Quentin Plair’s Otis, the only Black dancer in the club. Otis’ struggles highlight the plight of many Black dancers at Chippendales as Banerjee would discriminate against people of color because of his desperate need for the approval of white America. The real life story is much murkier and messier and is more fully explored in some of the documentary series already made. Of those, I personally recommend Curse of the Chippendales from last year.

Welcome to Chippendales features quite a few standout performances. Ashford, Bartlett, and Lewis all do yeoman’s work as Banerjee’s inner circle, at times in his corner but more often railing against his own insecurities. In less showier roles, Plair and Andrew Rannells are fantastic and immediately capture your attention while on screen. Even Dan Stevens and Nicola Peltz Beckham impress in the very small time they appear on screen as their character’s outcomes loom over the series and Banerjee himself. But the series is really a showcase for 2 people.

Robin De Jesus is a star in the role of Ray Colon. With this and his performance in last year’s Tick Tick Boom, it’s very hard not to see how his career isn’t launching into the stratosphere. But the real star of Welcome to Chippendales is Nanjiani. Many of his previous roles relied on his comedic flair and charm, but here Kumail slams his foot down and demands to be seen. It’s an all-encompassing performance that is guaranteed to impress award voters. If this doesn’t at least get him an Emmy nod I’ll be flabbergasted. It’s just that good.

As you would expect from a Hulu/Disney-backed project the production design is top-notch, it’s really a time capsule exploding on screen. And the streamlined story doesn’t mean that the script pulls any punches, as the end of the very first episode outlines a now iconic Hollywood tragedy, and episode 2 deals with the fallout. From the very beginning, series creator Robert Siegel and his crew of directors drop us into this story at a breakneck pace that doesn’t relent until the final episode. Joining other stellar recent Hulu/Disney content like The Old Man, Dopesick, Pam & Tommy, Pistol, and The Dropout, Welcome to Chippendales delivers on all fronts and stays engaging throughout the entire 8 episode series. It should easily keep audiences coming back for the whole run.

  • Release Date: 11/22/2022
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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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