It’s not every day you see a TV series that features male strippers, true crime and Kumail Nanjiani, but “Welcome to Chippendales” is just that. Based on the lurid saga of Somen “Steve” Banerjee’s L.A. bar-turned-empire, the Hulu show has a shiny exterior, with much more going on below the surface.
Speaking to Variety at the show’s premiere, held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood Tuesday evening, star and executive producer Nanjiani explained what drew him to the project and the role of Banerjee.
“It’s a really fun show and everything, but it really gets at a lot of stuff that I think about, which is, what is success in America, when is it enough in America, greed, an immigrant coming here trying to fit into a place that’s made for success for a certain kind of person and not other kinds of people,” Nanjiani said. “So it really gets at a lot of stuff that I think about all the time — racism, sexism. I was like, ‘Oh, I have to be a part of this.’”
Annaleigh Ashford, who stars as Banerjee’s wife, Irene, told Variety that she was particularly drawn to the story’s unbelievable details and sense of camp, which she said sets it apart from the many other true crime shows that have premiered recently.
“This is one of those stories that if you wrote it from your brain, people would say, ‘That would never happen in real life,’” Ashford said. “There’s also the magic of the ‘70s and the ‘80s and things that they did wrong, things that they did right. It’s always good when you work on a piece that looks back in time, to see what you can learn from it. Also, there’s that magic pop culture camp that comes with the Chippendales. So there’s lots of boys ripping their pants off.”
Joining Ashford and Nanjiani is “The White Lotus” star Murray Bartlett, who plays Chippendales choreographer Nick de Noia. Bartlett agreed with Ashford about the show’s balance of levity, telling Variety that “you don’t sink too far into the darkness because the next scene is like a strip number.”
“As a kid growing up in Australia, I knew the mirage of the Chippendales as this pack of Fabios that were in in the US that did this campy, fun, sexy burlesque show, but I had no idea that the behind-the-scenes was this rich rollercoaster ride of a true crime story,” Bartlett said.
The series was created by “Pam & Tommy” creator Robert Siegel, who first pitched the script to Nanjiani in 2017. Siegel and Nanjiani said they were drawn to the project for all the themes it covers, including feminism, sexism, racism and the American dream. Even for true crime aficionados that already know the story of the Chippendales, Siegel said the series has a lot to offer its viewers, even if you’re just there to see the dancers.
“I like stuff that has depth but the depth is buried way below the surface of something really fun,” Siegel said. “So if you’re not paying attention, maybe you just thought you saw something that was purely entertaining, which is fine. I like to hide the vegetables, you know.”
“Welcome to Chippendales” premieres its first two episodes Nov. 22 on Hulu.
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