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Welcome to Chippendales on Disney+ review: exploring the murder and mayhem behind the stripping phenomenon

Remember the Chippendales, the male strippers who became a global sensation before Magic Mike was even out of nappies? The washboard abs, bow ties without accompanying shirt and oh so much grinding?

Growing up in the Nineties, the troupe was already naff, a punchline. So for those, like me, unaware of the dark heart of the phenomenon’s creation story, Disney+’s new show Welcome to Chippendales came as a complete surprise.

Though it became less of a surprise upon learning the eight-part mini-series was adapted from the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by K Scot Macdonald and Patrick MondesDeOca, a story of the rise and fall of the club’s founder, which takes in money, drugs, killings and arson.

We meet Somen Banerjee, an Indian immigrant who changes his name to Steve, working at a gas station at the turn of the Eighties, saving up every penny to open a backgammon club as he seeks to emulate his idol Hugh Hefner.

After a series of failed attempts to bring in the punters – from oyster-eating competitions to female mud wrestling – he is inspired to put on a male strip show for women, and the phenomenon is born.

Combine a kitsch sensation, which still has huge name recognition, true crime drama and an Eighties and Nineties aesthetic and you’ve got studio catnip. So there is absolutely no surprise that this story has been given a glossy streaming makeover.

Added to that, the revaluation of how the recent(ish) past was much more toxic than we remember is familiar ground for the show’s creator Robert Siegel. He is also behind last year’s mini-series Pam & Tommy, which focused on the theft of the infamous sex tape featuring Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee and the fallout for all involved.

 (HULU)
(HULU)

If anything, Welcome to Chippendales has even more drama, and more suspense, as few will have heard of Banerjee, played by stand-up comic turned actor Kumail Nanjiani (star of Eternals and The Big Sick, which he co-wrote), and how his story plays out.

This is a real acting work-out for Nanjiani and he pulls it off. His Banerjee is a perennial outsider looking to belong. He is insular and awkward, rarely raising a smile, but has a single-mindedness that takes him from being a petrol station attendant to great wealth. He also has a darkness that sets the tragic chain of events in motion

But this is no solo vehicle. Playing Banerjee’s foil Nick De Noia, the choreographer who brings the “production values” to the Chippendales is the ever-brilliant Murray Bartlett. With his curtains and Aviators, he’s unrecognisable from his recent show-stealing turn as hotel manager Armond in the first series of White Lotus, but remains as watchable.

Other great turns include one from Juliette Lewis as a seamstress who comes up with the idea for tear-off stripper’s trousers, surely the splitting the atom of the male exotic dancing game. Dan Stevens pops up as business partner Paul Snider, and Nicola Peltz Beckham, who plays his girlfriend Dorothy Stratten lights up the show. For fans of true crime podcasts, these names might also ring a bell, and foreshadows what is to come in the series.

This creation story of the stripping phenomenon has wider themes about the American Dream and how it can turn sour, as well as the devastating impact of toxic masculinity, long before the term was invented. In fact, the least toxic men in the show are those charging around on stage with their tops off and big goofy grins on their faces, singing “Give your love to a cowboy man”.

The world of Eighties LA is brilliantly recreated and from the four episodes I had access to, and though there has been some rumblings that the show didn’t need eight hours to tell its story, I’m in for the rest of this wild ride.

Welcome to Chippendales airs on Disney+ from January 11