Hulu has carved out an impressive niche of salacious fact-based limited series, including several with a true-crime hook. “Welcome to Chippendales” checks off those boxes, but in a less-appealing package that’s surprisingly lifeless, and even with its trashy selling points looks under-dressed for success.
The story begins with Indian immigrant Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) who is introduced as a gas-station/quickie-mart attendant before he gambles his savings by opening a high-end backgammon club. It’s a colossal flop, but his fortunes shift when Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) and Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham) walk in, later dragging him to a gay bar, where Banerjee stumbles onto “a strip club … for women.”
After dismissing it as “The dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” Snider joins in the effort, but he’s a lousy partner, and a grim fate awaits him and Stratten. But this is Banerjee’s story, and he finds the help he needs from choreographer Nick De Noia (“The White Lotus’” Murray Bartlett), who brings a more professional, slicker patina to the male dance revue, turning it into “an actual show.”
Instead of reveling in his success, though, Banerjee seethes over the fact that the media-friendly De Noia is getting most of the credit, a dynamic that isn’t helped by just how awkward and awful an interview Banerjee turns out to be. Even letting De Noia open a club in New York can’t stop Banerjee from insisting on trying to demonstrate who’s the boss, which will eventually lead to dire consequences before it’s over.
Banerjee’s can get away more with his impulsiveness and racism – highlighted by the way he approaches Black employees – in the late 1970s and ’80s, as well as plenty of freewheeling sex and drugs.
Nanjiani (who also produced) has already made strides beyond comedy in movies like “The Big Sick” and “Eternals,” but he makes the most of this straight dramatic role. Ultimately, though, “Chippendales” is defined by its trashier aspects, while its assortment of supporting players and their soap-opera problems too often feel as if they’re just killing time. That includes Annaleigh Ashford as Banerjee’s wife, who can’t get him to listen to good advice, and Juliette Lewis and Andrew Rannells as Nick’s friend and boyfriend.
In some respects, Hulu might be a victim of its own success, having set the bar high with Emmy-nominated productions like “Pam & Tommy,” “The Dropout” and “Dopesick.”
Grading on that curve, “Welcome to Chippendales” feels like a lightweight commodity, one of those ideas that looks great on paper and, despite its healthy serving of beefcake, not nearly as good in the flesh.
“Welcome to Chippendales” premieres November 22 on Hulu.