Hulu has created an impressive niche of fact-based limited series, including several with a true crime hook. “Welcome to Chippendales” ticks those boxes, but in a less attractive package that’s surprisingly lifeless, and even with its messy selling points it seems underdressed for success.
The story begins with Indian immigrant Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), who is introduced as a gas station/convenience store attendant before gambling away his savings by opening a high-end backgammon club. It’s a colossal failure, but his luck changes when Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) and fellow Playboy Dorothy Stratten (Nicola Peltz Beckham) walk in, then drag him to a gay bar, where Banerjee encounters “a strip club … for women.” .”
After dismissing it as “The dumbest idea I’ve ever heard”, Snider joins the effort, but he’s a lousy partner and a sad fate awaits him and Stratten. But this is Banerjee’s story, and she finds the help she needs from choreographer Nick De Noia (“The White Lotus” Murray Bartlett), who brings a slicker, professional patina to the men’s dance revue, making it ” a real show.”
However, instead of basking in her success, Banerjee delights in the fact that media-friendly De Noia is getting most of the credit, a dynamic not helped by the awkward and horrible that turns out to be a Banerjee interview. Even letting De Noia open a club in New York can’t stop Banerjee from insisting on trying to prove who’s boss, which will eventually lead to dire consequences before it’s over.
Banerjee’s can get away with more impulsiveness and racism, highlighted by the way he approaches black employees, in the late 1970s and 1980s, as well as plenty of free sex and drugs.
Nanjiani (who also produced) has already moved beyond comedy in films like “The Big Sick” and “Eternals,” but he makes the most of this straight-up dramatic role. Ultimately, though, “Chippendales” is defined by its trashier aspects, while its array of supporting players and soap opera problems often feel like they’re just killing time. This 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 ways, 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.”
Judging by this curve, “Welcome to Chippendales” feels like a light commodity, one of those ideas that looks good on paper and, despite its healthy portion of meat pie, not so good in the flesh.
“Welcome to Chippendales” premieres Nov. 22 on Hulu.