Review: Catch the Hot Bodies, Electric Performances on 'Welcome to Chippendales'

by Padraic Maroney

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 21, 2022

Hulu is carving out its niche as the go-to place for salacious "ripped from the headlines" limited series demonstrating the downside to fame and fortune. Earlier this year, we saw "Pam & Tommy" dramatize the leaking of the world's most famous sex tape. Now, Hulu's showing the dark origin story of everyone's favorite cuffed exotic dancers in "Welcome to Chippendales."

Dreaming of becoming rich, gas station attendant-turned-entrepreneur Somen "Steve" Banarjee (Kumail Nanjiani) originally sets out to open an upscale baccarat club in Los Angeles. Despite his calculations about the hole in the marketplace for such a club, it doesn't take off. However, a chance encounter with a Hollywood starlet/Playboy model and her boyfriend makes him see that the path to achieving his wealth is paved in oiled-up hot bodies instead of board games. But as the money flies in, Banarjee spirals and is willing to do anything to murder — quite literally — the competition and maintain his position.

Watching the first episode compared to the second almost feels like two separate shows because of the way the characters enter and exit Banarjee's orbit. While still entertaining and enjoyable, the first episode requires a lot of setup and background to make sure that things really start running with the second episode.

Creator Robert Siegel walks the line perfectly of mixing the shady underbelly with the more dramatic human interactions while never becoming overly serious. He knows what the people are here for, and is more than willing to give you plenty of hot bodies, pelvic thrusts, and clothes being ripped off. That said, he does infuse the show with issues like racism and discrimination that Banarjee faced and, in turn, perpetuated at the club by refusing to hire more than one dancer of color and resorting to other tricks to give the club an "elegant, exclusive atmosphere."

The show's core quartet is its biggest asset, so to speak. Nanjiani, who also serves as a producer, leads a cast that also consists of Murray Bartlett as choreographer (and the real brains behind Chippendales) Nick De Noia, Annaleigh Ashford as Steve's accountant and future wife, and Juliette Lewis, who brings her own intoxicating energy to all her scenes. (The real crime will be if Ashford doesn't get nominated for her role.)

The four actors share such an electric chemistry that it is hard to turn away from the screen. It's truly an embarrassment of riches, such that usual scene stealers like Andrew Rannells hardly register. Even "Downton Abbey" actor Dan Stevens, who makes an impression during the first episode, is forgotten by the midway point of the series.

Come for the titillating subject material, but stay for the performances — okay, and the male strippers, too. "Welcome to Chippendales" may be an eight-episode limited series, but binging it in one sitting wouldn't feel like a chore. Interestingly, as Steve's spiral begins to occur the episodes get shorter, with the last few reaching just over a half hour. If anything, the biggest complaint about this would be that the show ends too abruptly, without giving much of an epilogue about where the surviving characters ended up.

"Welcome to Chippendales" premieres on Hulu November 22, 2022, with episodes being released weekly.