“You can’t make an American dream omelette without breaking a few eggs,” a character muses at one point in Hulu’s new true crime saga, Welcome to Chippendales. The man who hears those words, Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), indeed managed to live his American dream for a while, but unfortunately when he broke all his eggs, he was left eating a really shitty omelette.
Luckily, Welcome to Chippendales is a more satisfying meal for the most part. Following up his success with Pam & Tommy on Hulu, creator Robert Siegel is back at it on the streamer with a new tale of greed and strife based on the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by K. Scot Macdonald and Patrick MontesDeOca, and he brings together yet another stellar cast for this fresh-but-murky American crime story following the rise and fall of Chippendales creator Banerjee, who struck gold with the male stripping club sensation before letting his own paranoia, envy, and egotism ruin everything.
Banerjee initially crafts his American dream, as many do, around the philosophy of “if you build it, they will come.” It’s just that the thing he’s got his heart set on building – a backgammon club for the rich and sophisticated denizens of a late-70s Los Angeles – turns out to be a non-starter. It’s only when Banerjee accepts that his American dream is built on faulty foundations that he is able to adopt the ideas of others and make a success of them (this show isn’t subtle with its metaphors) but when he realizes that his collaborative Chippendales dream has grown beyond his control, he just cannot cope.
We initially cheer for Banerjee as he encounters a series of talented individuals who all somehow know exactly what will help bring his rich American businessman dream to life, and are a little dismayed when they take advantage of his lack of people-reading skills and knowledge of the American legal system. An ambitious Indian immigrant, Banerjee never stops feeling like an outsider, even when he’s at the center of a cultural phenomenon he’s instrumental in creating.
Nanjiani is terrific as the stiff nightclub owner, alternately radiating hope, simmering menace, and delighting in the thrill of success, while simultaneously cutting one of the most pathetic figures ever seen on TV. The Eternals actor seemingly brings no ego of his own to the role, obviously relishing the chance to play someone so regularly despicable but consistently tragic. Though he’s not too far removed from his exploited and obsessed with one-upmanship Silicon Valley programmer Dinesh Chugtai here, Nanjiani is given a lot more to do with Banerjee, and he deftly uses the same comedic talents to instil a truly cringeworthy sense of awkwardness to Banerjee’s social interactions with those in his immediate circle.
The rest of the ensemble cast help boost the series up to prestige level in what could have turned out to be a trashy affair, given the subject matter. Murray Bartlett, fresh off an Emmy nom for The White Lotus, joins Nanjiani here as fading choreographer Nick De Noia, who whips Banerjee’s flailing Chippendales dancers into shape. Juliette Lewis is a coke and booze-fueled delight as ingenious costume designer Denise, while Broadway notables Annaleigh Ashford and Andrew Rannells play Banerjee and De Noia’s smart and supportive partners to perfection. There’s a key role for Legion’s Dan Stevens, too, although he’s near-unrecognizable here thanks to the brown contact lenses covering his signature piercing blue eyes.
Welcome to Chippendales has also hired some unique talent behind the camera, with WandaVision and future Avengers: Secret Wars director Matt Shakman kicking things off in style. The show’s version of ’80s LA eschews the clean cut and glitzy neon nostalgia of many modern period pieces set in the era, opting for wood-panelled walls, turgid red lighting, and sticky floors. It all feels very authentic and self-contained, even when the story sprawls to New York or plays with the kind of ludicrous visual montages you’d often see on TV back then.
The eight-episode series does suffer from problems that have become very familiar to fans of big budget true crime TV dramas. The last couple of instalments run out of steam as the focus fully shifts to the fallout of Banerjee’s crimes and not the steady and enthralling climb to the point of no return. The script is riddled with conveniences, and its characters’ sudden “by Jove, I’ve got it!” epiphanies are when Welcome to Chippendales is at its most hacky and procedural. Although you expect to see biopic tropes across both TV and movies these days, it’s still a real groan to witness it happening over and over again in an otherwise entertaining and energetic show.
Ultimately, Welcome to Chippendales lacks the heart of Siegel’s Pam & Tommy by focusing on a character we have less empathy for, but this is still another true crime winner for Hulu, and if you’ve been waiting for a new limited series to fill the Dahmer or The Watcher-shaped hole in your bingeing life, this is almost certainly going to do the trick. Though it doesn’t have the same level of nuance you might find elsewhere, it’s fun, watchable, and if you’re not familiar with the Chippendales story, a real eye-opener.
The first two episodes of Welcome to Chippendales premiere Tuesday, Nov. 22 on Hulu. A new episode premieres each Tuesday through Jan. 3.