When ladies of the 1980s were looking for a naughty night out, Chippendales was the way to go. The premiere of Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales fills us in on how the household-name, all-male revue got started — and how even its bump-and-grind beginnings were steeped in scandal.
Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), who also executive-produces the limited series, stars as Somen “Steve” Banerjee, an Indian immigrant who’s running a gas station when we meet him in the first episode of the two-ep premiere. It’s the 1970s, and Steve’s boss, who’s very happy with his performance, is offering him a promotion to be the general manager of several gas stations. But Steve has other plans: He’s saved 90 percent of his income over the previous five years, and he’s got his eyes on a bigger, shinier prize. He’s going to start his own business: “A backgammon club.”
Soon, Steve is dressing in a new suit from Sears, fancy shoes and cufflinks, as he feels befits the proprietor of “an elegant, exclusive atmosphere” for Los Angeles’ first backgammon emporium. He names it Destiny II, because “people are attracted to things they perceive as successful,” he notes. Turns out? Not so much. The building is pretty empty most nights, including the one in which a nightclub promoter named Paul Snider (played by Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens) and his Playboy playmate girlfriend Dorothy (Bates Motel‘s Nicola Peltz Beckham) happen to stop by.
Steve is impressed that they talk about knowing Hugh Hefner — one of his role models — and he eventually asks Paul to come on board to increase buzz about the club. Paul scoffs, but when Steve offers him a quarter of the club in exchange, he relents. Six weeks later, though, it’s clear that Paul is not as connected (or as well-off) as he pretends to be. The men agree to reduce Paul’s stake to five percent, and then they go about trying to find a concept that will pack the place every night.
First, Destiny II becomes a disco joint. Then a female mud-wrestling show, with Paul as referee. Then a spot for an oyster-eating contest (which is seriously disgusting). Nothing clicks. Steve tags along one night after work when Paul and Dorothy hit up a gay bar, and his wheels start turning as a dancer takes the stage and starts stripping for the very eager crowd. “A strip club for women!” Steve cries when they get outside, excited about his newest idea. Paul thinks it’s dumb, but Dorothy doesn’t. “Women get horny!” she says. “We’re every bit as lustful.”
Pretty soon, Steve and Paul are recruiting guys working out at the beach to be the club’s dancers. And the place is now called Chippendales, after the famous cabinet maker: “A new name for a new beginning,” Steve says, adding that the moniker is “classy.” But the proceedings — though popular with the hooting, carousing women in the audience — are a mess. There’s no choreography. The guys just kind of come out and do their thing. And when choreographer Nick De Noia (White Lotus‘ Murray Bartlett) comes by one night, he’s very unimpressed.
Steve eventually meets with Nick, who has won Emmys for creating/directing a kids’ series called Unicorn Tales. He winds up coming on board to give the show some shape/narrative/creative zhushing. Paul, who’s been serving as emcee, feels threatened — and things don’t get better when Nick flirts with Dorothy during rehearsal. After a particularly bad outburst of Paul’s, Nick sends him packing: “You’re creepy, and you’re weird, and you’re fired.”
Much to Paul’s chagrin, the new Chippendales is a success. Everyone celebrates after the first big performance, and Steve pays Nick his $3,000 consulting fee. But soon after, the episode ends on a grim and disturbing note: As Steve calls Paul and Dorothy — who are married now — to ask a favor, the camera cuts to their bedroom, where they’re both naked and dead, with a gun nearby and blood everywhere. Police believe Paul killed Dorothy, then fatally shot himself.
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