Welcome to Chippendales review: Slick 70s drama gets pulses racing
Kumail Nanjiani delivers a career-best performances as the creator of the legendary strip act
With an edgy 70s vibe and pulsing disco beat, creator Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) opens up a Pandora’s box of sexual liberation in Welcome to Chippendales, his new original series streaming on Disney+ from 11 January.
It's a slickly produced and dynamically stylised dip into the world of Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), the founder of America’s first female only strip club.
Produced by Emily V. Gordon (Little America) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Eternals), Welcome to Chippendales follows Steve Banerjee from gas station clerk to strip club owning mastermind through concise storytelling. It delves deeply into the connections, coincidences and inspired slices of business acumen that ultimately create an empire.
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As writer Robert Siegel and director Matt Shakman (WandaVision) shape these opening episodes, you're drawn into this uninhibited world, watching first Paul Snider (Dan Stevens) and then Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) join the enterprise. One is a charlatan who makes promises without foundation, while the other adds Emmy award-winning panache to proceedings through some expert choreography.
With an air of creative revolution happening on the fringes of this show, as film directors like Peter Bogdanovich (Philip Shahbaz) cameo, Welcome to Chippendales feels like it captures a specific moment in time. However, as Paul Snider and his Playboy centrefold partner Dorothy Stratton (Nicola Peltz Beckham), fall by the way side, this expansive dramatisation soon takes another intriguing turn.
Gone is the tempestuous Snider with his tasteless introductions and petty jealousies, only to be replaced by a love interest in Annaleigh Ashford’s Irene. Businesswoman, voice of reason and future wife for Steve, she looks to her for stability as his venture fast becomes a Californian phenomenon. It's an addition which soon brings costume designer and Nick De Noia wing woman Denise (Juliette Lewis) into the fold.
What becomes apparent as this series unfolds, beyond the pioneering epiphany of male objectification as big business, is how much the show succeeds because of excellent casting. Kumail Nanjiani gives a career best turn as the razor-sharp Steve Banerjee, using a combination of personable depreciation and ruthless alpha-male tactics when required.
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Elsewhere, Dan Stevens makes an impressive early impact as Paul Snider — alongside Nicola Peltz Beckham’s Dorothy Stratton — leaving no scenery unchewed every moment he's on screen. In comparison his platinum blonde playmate is both demure and gentile, alongside the mass of male insecurity she effortlessly outshines.
However, Murray Bartlett’s Nick De Noia is without doubt the one which people will remember after those credits roll. As an Emmy award-winning choreographer on the wane, there is no small degree of pathos evident in this portrayal. As a bisexual man at the height of the 70s sexual revolution, his character arc from opportunist grifter through to disgruntled creative force is riveting.
There is a hint of Boogie Nights in the era specific production design, not to mention hat tips to Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and the uneven charms of A Chorus Line in those early dance auditions. Murray Bartlett stands toe to toe with Kumail Nanjiani, ensuring that these character actors creatively clash, while Welcome to Chippendales builds to a crescendo.
As the influence of this pioneering male revue filters through to New York and Chippendales starts feeling like a global brand, Robert Siegel keeps every ounce of drama under control. In that moment this Disney+ original morphs into a full-blown character study, as tragedy threatens to undo everything Steve Banerjee has built up until now.
With Banerjee away in India trying to reconcile his cultural responsibilities with the success he has achieved overseas, Irene is encouraged to let loose. Immersed in the cocaine culture of the era Nick and Denise succeed in creating a professional rift which never really heals.
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In every sense, this dramatisation adapted from the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by Patrick MontesDeOca and K. Scott McDonald screams quality. Although the subject matter might reek of 70s exploitation kitsch, what this show also celebrates is innovation over adversity — a defining characteristic of the American dream, which seeks to convince anyone with drive and ambition that they can achieve greatness.
Beyond that, Welcome to Chippendales is yet another example of television drama which genuinely benefits from this mode of storytelling. As film and television takes its first tentative steps into 2023, audiences can take comfort from the fact that Disney+ and its subsidiaries has its fingers squarely on the creative pulse.
With The Last of Us launching only a week or so later and Rian Johnson's Pokerface on the horizon, this year already promises to exceed expectations.
Welcome to Chippendales is available to stream on Disney+ from 11 January.
Watch a trailer below.