Welcome to Chippendales: Disney+ series tells bloody true story of America’s first male strip club

A still from US series Welcome to Chippendales shows five strippers performing in front of a crowd

New Disney+ series Welcome to Chippendales strikes a masterful balance of murder, revenge, greed – and thongs.

Inspired by the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders, the eight-episode series explores everything from the fragility of the American Dream to the tumultuous undercurrent of race relations in the ’70s and ’80s, finding its footing as one of the rare true crime shows that could confidently be described as sexy.

The drama follows Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee (whose descent into megalomania is depicted by Kumail Nanjiani) and his surprisingly vicious rise to power as the owner of the first and biggest male strip joint in America – The Chippendales.

Kumail Najiani plays Indian immigrant Somen “Steve” Banerjee in Welcome to Chippendales. (Hulu/Lara Solanki)

And yes – there are a lot of men in thongs.

After Steve dreams up The Chippendales during his first visit to a gay bar, the introduction of Nick de Noia (Murray Bartlett) as his business partner/choreographer-turned-nemesis gives the series a lot more edge and a lot more murder.

Nick is a strong foil for Steve and the rivalry between the two escalates until the bloody breaking point. It’s an opportunity to see Bartlett in a more outrightly devious role – and though his hotel manager Armond in The White Lotus was no angel, De Noia’s calculated manipulation and underhand methods of snatching credit from Steve paint him as a definite, pulsing-vein-in-forehead villain.

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Still, you don’t entirely hate him, and you don’t entirely love Steve – nobody’s character in Welcome to Chippendales is clean-cut, with the possible exception of Steve’s eventual wife, Irene, who has to remind him that “there are good people, and there are bad people” on more than one occasion.

Murray Bartlett’s Nick de Noia adds some grittiness to the show. (Hulu/Erin Simkin)

The series has also nailed the golden formula of ‘let’s keep watching’. By the end of the first episode, two main players have already met their bloody, artfully-shot end by shotgun. It’s the kind of cliffhanger that makes a viewer go “just one more episode” until it’s 4am.

At no point do things get less gripping than that – whether that’s because of the large amount of tearaway clothes worn by men with a large number of muscles, or more murder, arson and drugs, the series grabs viewers, forces a Tom Collins into their hand and takes a large hit of poppers before plowing deeper into seedy LA (and NYC) in the ’80s.

Welcome to Chippendales also tackles racial tensions with a surprisingly deft hand for a show that you would essentially recommend to someone as ‘about strippers and murder’.

Otis (Quentin Plair) is the only Black dancer in the Chippendales troupe, and the most popular He is hired for his race, but quits soon after he’s cut from any promotional material for the show, because according to Steve: “It’s one thing for women to enjoy you in the privacy of a club…”

Quentin Plair as Otis. (Hulu/Erin Simkin)

Steve’s initial wide-eyed optimism and naïvety make it all the more shocking when he engages in dodgy business dealings and weaponises methods of racism used against him to further the business, because in business, “only one colour matters” – green.

In moments like these, Welcome to Chippendales rarely but sometimes finds itself with one foot in ‘criticising’ and one foot in ’empathising’ with Steve, leaving the viewer unsure of where to fall.

But these tensions are something the series masterfully interweaves into its bloody narrative. When something is billed as ‘true crime’, you don’t expect it to be as sexy or as fun as this neon-flooded offering.

Conversely, when something is billed as sexy and fun, you don’t expect there to be quite so much murder, tangible anguish or concentration on what it meant to be marginalised in America, and whether any amount of money is enough to counteract the disadvantage it places one at.

Welcome to Chippendales is streaming on Disney+.

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