Roush Review: Kumail Nanjiani Leads a Gaudy Dance of Death in ‘Welcome to Chippendales’

Kumail Nanjiani in 'Welcome to Chippendales'
Review
Hulu

Welcome to Chippendales

Matt's Rating: rating: 3.5 stars

Come for the dirty dancing, stay for the lurid drama.

Throbbing to a disco beat that propels a familiar yet fascinating story of how quickly the American dream can curdle, Hulu’s eight-part Welcome to Chippendales docudrama is great fun. Until it isn’t.

Primarily a character study of the glittery male-stripper club’s uptight and insecure founder, Indian immigrant Steve Banerjee (Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani in a nuanced performance), the series foreshadows his tawdry fall from the start of his giddy rise. A Playboy-lifestyle devotee who hero-worships Hugh Hefner, Steve is socially awkward with his robotic gait and inappropriately stuffy suits. He only comes alive in the presence of smarmy promoter Paul Snider (Downton Abbey’s unrecognizable Dan Stevens), who, with doomed Playmate wife Dorothy Stratten (a touching Nicola Peltz Beckham), helps him transform a dying backgammon space in L.A. into a rowdy cash cow for lusty women.

If you’ve seen Star 80, you know how Paul and Dorothy’s unhappy story ends. But that’s just the curtain-raiser, setting the tone for Steve’s journey of success, clouded by jealousy, unchecked greed, murderous paranoia — and, disturbingly, an internalized racism that keeps him from including his sole Black superstar (Quentin Plair) on the first Chippendales calendar. “This is business,” he assures the disgruntled dancer. “And in business, there’s only one color that matters.”

Welcome to Chippendales - Kumail Nanjiani and Annaleigh Ashford

Hulu

Steve is such a buzzkill, never satisfied and rarely smiling even amid the uproarious routines staged by charismatic choreographer Nick De Noia (The White Lotus Emmy winner Murray Bartlett, nailing it again). This showman soon becomes the “Mr. Chippendales” brand ambassador on TV and on the road, upstaging the quietly furious Steve, who yearns for that spotlight.

His wife, the crafty accountant Irene (Annaleigh Ashford, adorable), urges Steve to relax and enjoy what he’s built. Similarly, flamboyant designer Denise (Juliette Lewis, dynamic as ever) — who came up with those infamous breakaway pants — keeps talking her creative partner Nick off the ledge of despair after each clash with the boss.

You don’t have to be a true-crime addict to see where this is headed: a grisly dance of death.

Welcome to Chippendales, Series Premiere (Two Episodes), Tuesday, November 22, Hulu