Whether you’ve ever seen the show or not, you’ve definitely heard of Chippendales.
Popularized in Saturday Night Live sketches and still going strong to this day in Las Vegas, the legendary troupe is famous for its distinct costumes and gasp-worthy performances. But have you ever wondered how thee Chippendales came to be?
If the answer to that question is yes, then it’s your lucky day because Hulu has brought you an 8-episode look into its founder, Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee, and the creation of one of the biggest cultural phenomenons in history.
There’s a much deeper story within a story when you look into the creation of Chippendales that revolves around Steve and some of his later actions in life. And with the fast-moving series, we’ll surely get there before all is said and done.
But Welcome to Chippendales Season 1 Episode 1 is about three things: Steve’s aspirations, Chippendales humble beginning, and the deaths of Paul Snider and Dorothy Stratten.
Steve, played by the always-engaging Kumail Nanjiani, is a mild-mannered, intelligent go-getter who seems borderline obsessed with finding success in any way he can. He’s got an idol in Hugh Hefner, a decent chunk of change, and a dream to turn his backgammon club into the next big Hollywood hotspot.
Steve has a vision, but it seems to be rooted in moving up in the world and not much else. He’s driven by the finer things in life, wearing a suit literally at almost all times, and admiring Rolexes as if he’ll go back to being a gas station manager if he’s not dressed like a politician.
It’s interesting to see Steve do whatever he can to fit into this new life he’s hoping to create for himself, including changing his name from Somen to Steve, which he does with very little fanfare.
As enjoyable as the first two hours of this ride were, my biggest gripe was the lack of truly getting into the nitty gritty about who this guy was. A quick google search will show you what happens to him eventually, and this series aims to give us the details about the club’s early days, but what about Steve’s early days?
Perhaps we’ll get more into that as the series goes on, exploring his life pre-Los Angeles and what his family has to say about his life choices, but for now, we just get a detailed look into how Chippendales became Chippendales, and it winds up being more fascinating than I ever knew.
For starters, Dorothy Stratten played a role as the wife of Paul Snider, who partnered up with Steve to run the backgammon spot that would go through a series of iterations before becoming the male strip club.
Dorothy’s story is unfortunate, and because it’s more of a background plot, they don’t dive too heavily into Dorothy and Paul’s dynamic beyond showcasing its toxicity and Paul’s obsessive desire to keep Dorothy by any means necessary.
Nick: I’m sorry, I’ve had it.
Paul: What? You’ve had it with what?
Paul: Excuse me?
Nick: You are bad energy.
Paul: Oh, bad energy. Go fuck yourself, Unicorn Tales. Bad energy.
Paul is unhinged and almost manic in how he approaches working with Steve, who is the opposite. But their working partnership yields results in the beginning, at least to the point where they’re finally able to bring in paying customers once they outfit the place with men in g-strings.
Paul’s primary objective in everything he does is motivated by his desire to assert his dominance over Dorothy and keep her with him. He’s manipulative and abusive, and you can tell where things are building throughout the hour.
Her murder by his hand and then his eventual suicide plays out off-screen, but the series chooses to show the aftermath while an oblivious Steve leaves an innocuous voicemail that sums up Steve throughout the first hour. He gets a front-row seat to Paul’s aggression and remains blissfully ignorant.
The murder/suicide coincides with the club’s continued success, which you could argue is almost solely due to Nick De Noia, a central figure down the line, who comes into the club and immediately changes things for the better.
Steve has business sense, but he’s so wholly out of his element when it comes to promotion in those early days, and he’s not in touch with his clientele. Girls want to see guys taking it all off and whatnot, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There should be a give-and-take with the audience. A story that the men in that room are telling.
The lack of clothes is nice, but there should be a build-up that makes the inevitable conclusion all the more thrilling.
The dance sequences throughout the first hour and Welcome to Chippendales Season 1 Episode 2 are okay, but they don’t exactly translate to the screen as well as they probably play in person. Though, it’s clear we’re supposed to see the big gap in talent between those early guys and those who come along once Nick is fully in charge.
One thing about Steve, he was always putting the club first in the early days. He took his Ls where he needed to take them and tried to course-correct when necessary.
He happens to be in the right place at the right time to get feedback, and he immediately turns back to Nick to see what he can do to help.
Murray Bartlett is always a delight, and he gets a lot to play with when it comes to Nick, whose got a lot of bravado when he’s teaching the guys how to pivot but appears a lot less sure of himself when he’s alone.
Once he comes on board, he puts a lot into the show, and it’s very easy to imagine a world in which Chippendales never reaches the heights it gets to without his guiding hand. As bright as Steve is in the way he eventually markets the club, the dancers are what really keep those seats filled.
Steve makes tremendous strides from his days of handing out flyers in Santa Monica by the time he hires Nick, and he doesn’t stop at just Nick, meeting a shy woman who he feels an immediate kinship with.
Irene and Steve seem like two peas in a pod, and their romantic connection is almost as instant as their business one.
Where Irene fits into this tale will be interesting to watch.
Steve is a little impulsive in how he approaches the club, but at least in the beginning, it works out for him, as each hire helps build the club brick by brick. But increased popularity and notoriety often brings about its own set of issues. And will he and Irene eventually bump heads about his unorthodox methods of keeping the club relevant?
Nick: So, let me get this straight. You steal my best dancer-
Steve: I did not steal anybody.
Nick: Bring her on, or I walk.
Steve: Is that a threat?
Nick: It’s a promise.
There’s an intriguing power struggle that starts to form between Steve and Nick during the second hour, as creative director Nick starts to understand his place in the hierarchy of the business. He can craft the product for which people are paying to see, but he has no say elsewhere.
At first, I didn’t entirely understand why he was so upset with Otis jumping in to help Steve when it was apparent that the club was understaffed, but Nick saw it as a power play.
Otis is far and away the best dancer at Chippendales and the biggest draw, and he saw Steve stealing him away as a boss kind of move. A way to show Nick who really runs the show at the end of the day.
But of course, Nick never saw Otis asking for Steve to show him the lay of the land.
It feels like the first of what could eventually be many misunderstandings between the two men, as Chippendales will ultimately become a worldwide phenomenon.
And power struggles can end up being a deadly affair.
Welcome to My Extra Thoughts
Denise will be a person to watch, as she was brought to the team pretty much as a chip for Nick to maneuver in his chess match with Steve. But how much influence will she ultimately have? Will it become Steve and Irene versus Nick and Denise?
Time is an abstract concept thus far in that I have no idea how much time has passed from where we started to where we are when the club begins to see some serious success.
I know it’s the 70s, but I honestly forgot half the time until I saw the Farrah Fawcett cut or Nick’s leisure suits. And some of the things they’re doing here you would never in a million years be able to get away with in today’s society. What a time.
The dancers are not the focal point here, but they have carved out an excellent role for Otis, played by the always charming and capable Quentin Plair, who gets to be more than just a dancer. And good for him to get out of that cringe-worthy kissing gimmick!
Watching those men struggle to get out of those pants, I was getting secondhand embarrassment! I can’t believe a world existed without breakaway pants.
The cast is truly stacked from top to bottom.
Hulu gifted us with the first two episodes, but from here on out, it’ll be one hour per week, and I’ll be here all season to discuss it all with you!
Tell me in the comments what you thought about the start of this miniseries and what you expect from the season!
You can keep up to date when you watch Welcome to Chippendales online via TV Fanatic this season.
Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.