Welcome to Chippendales, review: outrageous drama doesn't quite bare all

Quentin Plair as Otis in Welcome to Chippendales - Hulu/Erin Simkin
Quentin Plair as Otis in Welcome to Chippendales - Hulu/Erin Simkin

Some stories are so good, and so improbable, that it would be impossible to make a duff TV show about them. So it is with Welcome to Chippendales (Disney+), a drama about the rise and fall of their founder, Somen “Steve” Bannerjee.

What makes the tale fun is the unlikeliness of this man – a mild-mannered Indian petrol station attendant who dreams of running a backgammon club – masterminding the success of a half-naked male dance-troupe catering to crazed hen parties. Episode one neatly explains how he managed this, and it does involve a fair amount of happenstance and other people’s good ideas (later in the eight-part series, Juliette Lewis pops up as a woman who has invented those quick-release trousers that can be whipped off in one movement). But it was Bannerjee’s idea to open a strip club for women and to name the club Chippendales: “Like the 18th-century cabinet maker! It’s classy!”

As The Chippendales become a sensation, Bannerjee becomes jealous and paranoid. He hires Nick De Noia, a talented choreographer who turns the ragtag bunch of performers into a professional troupe, but begins to resent his influence. The character of De Noia doesn’t make much impact at first but then you realise he is being played by Murray Bartlett, who was so brilliant as the hotel manager in series one of The White Lotus. As the series goes on, De Noia becomes Bannerjee’s rival and nemesis, and Bartlett emerges as the star. Kumail Nanjiani seems unsure whether to play Bannerjee as hero or villain, and his switch from endearing to raging control freak is abrupt.

The script is entertaining, however, as when Bannerjee sums up why Chippendales calendars are flying off the shelves: “Women love to know what date it is – and naked men!” But at times it’s having too much fun and feels superficial. There is a darkness at the heart of the real-life story – it involves more than one murder – which doesn’t translate here. Episode one features Paul Snider, a sleazy nightclub promoter who becomes Bannerjee’s first business partner. The fact that he murdered his wife, Playboy model Dorothy Stratten, in a jealous rage, is a sign that he wasn’t a very nice man, yet he’s played here by Downton Abbey’s nice Dan Stevens as essentially harmless.