2 out of 5
Created by: Robert Siegel
I appreciate the restraint and purposeful juxtaposition of turning a story of erotic dancers and murders into a pretty tight-lipped drama. Robert Siegel’s Hulu mini-series, Welcome to Chippendales, concerning the origin of the franchise and eventual self-destruction of its founder, Somen Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), is not without its more salacious visuals and details, but the 8-episodes to try to lean in on character over the bigger headlines – Bannerjee’s powerplay struggles with Chippendales’ choreographer, Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) has him, amongst other things, hiring a hitman – but the problem is then that the scripts tend to be either blandly surface level, or substituting pauses between dialogue for depth; characters are encouraged to screw up their faces in thought, and then act like they haven’t had any thoughts some scenes later. Because of the brand’s interesting origins and meteoric rise, there’s a satirical edge to this in the first few episodes that fuels binge watching, but once the dynamics are established – came-from-nothing Banerjee and defensively proud De Noia both get power hungry and have childish, back-and-forth clashes – there keeps being the sense that we should be building to something, only we’re not: we’re just ticking off the biography boxes so episode eight can end with the “and so-and-so went on to do X…” followup text.
The promise is there, though: Nanjiani’s quiet take on Banerjee gives his representation an inner world, and we can track that to how it’s imprinted on by De Noia’s brashness and, when he meets future wife Irene (Annaleigh Ashford), he it extends to his being enamored with her. But the line from hardy businessman to bullish, money-hungry overlord is incredibly short in Welcome to Chippendales, and while the day-to-day details are interesting, the show lacks the connective tissue that helps contextualize it, and furthermore just leaves all of that promise – which was in class commentary, gender commentary, race relations; everything opening up a male strip club run in the 70s, run by an Indian immigrant could’ve feasibly touched on – as subplot dead-ends. Nanjiani’s cypher-like performance, in the midst of Banerjee’s continual poor decisions, comes across not as innocence turned into extreme naivety, but rather idiocy, which probably wasn’t the point; Ashford’s flip-flopping between submissive and domineering wife similarly don’t have script backing, despite the actress certainly handling both approaches well.
Welcome to Chippendales is a docudrama where the “reality is stranger than fiction” quotient was seemingly entirely swerved around, in order to give the show a quirky juxtaposition between tone and topic. This definitely works early on, especially as some conceptually rich subject matter is presented. Unfortunately, that proves to be its only move, otherwise just sifting through factoids one at a time, as dryly as possible.