For as long as there has been an American Dream, there have been stories of its dark side. Those tales are especially tragic when concerning immigrants who have come to the United States to secure their piece of the pie, only to be crushed — spiritually, morally, or even literally — by the machinery of capitalism. It’s a broad genre, encompassing fiction and non-fiction alike. Hulu’s new addition to the canon of American Dreams deferred is the limited series “Welcome to Chippendales” (originally titled simply “Immigrant”), the true story of Somen “Steve” Banerjee, a former gas station owner from Mumbai. In the 1980s, Banerjee started making big bucks thanks to a unique business idea: A strip club with men on display for a female audience.
Adapted from the true crime novel “Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders,” the series follows Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani, also an executive producer) as his club becomes a legitimate cultural phenomenon. But when he and his business partner Nick De Noia (Murray Bartlett) find themselves in conflict over the future of the Chippendales franchise, Banerjee takes deadly action to secure his legacy. It’s a tale of sex, money, power, and violence — as American as apple pie. Once you’ve finished “Welcome to Chippendales,” here are some other great shows to check out next.
Considering that the story of Steve Banerjee and Chippendales has all of Ryan Murphy’s pet obsessions — sex, violence, and opportunities for famous people to play other famous people — it’s a little surprising that he hasn’t yet turned it into a season of “American Crime Story.” A spin-off of sorts from Murphy’s long-running anthology series “American Horror Story,” the series premiered in 2016 with a season dedicated to the O.J. Simpson trial. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Simpson, John Travolta appears as attorney Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer plays Simpson’s close friend Robert Kardashian, and Murphy muse Sarah Paulson takes on the role of embattled prosecutor Marcia Clark. Season 2 premiered in 2018, tackling the 1997 murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez).
A season based on Hurricane Katrina was announced shortly after Season 2, but it was ultimately scrapped in favor of “Impeachment,” chronicling the story of Monica Lewinsky’s (Beanie Feldstein) affair with President Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) and his subsequent impeachment by the Senate for obstruction of justice. The series has been a cultural hit and an awards magnet, winning over a dozen Emmys across its three seasons. Critics have praised it for shining a light on misunderstood figures from recent history, giving Clark and Lewinsky in particular a level of sympathy that they did not receive at the time.
Like “Welcome to Chippendales,” the Showtime comedy series “Black Monday” takes place in a funhouse version of the 1980s where anyone — Black or white, male or female — is free to be as debauched and greedy as they desire. “Chippendales” co-star Andrew Rannells features as Blair Pfaff, a milquetoast stock trader who lands a job at a B-level Wall Street brokerage run by the eccentric Mo Monroe (Don Cheadle in an Emmy-nominated performance). As Mo, Blair, and their staff work to make a name for themselves in the insular world of New York high finance, the clock is ticking down to the 1987 stock market crash that gives the show its title.
The supporting cast is stacked with scene-stealers, from Regina Hall and Casey Wilson as Mo and Blair’s respective spouses to Ken Marino pulling double duty as the (fictionalized) Lehman brothers. Rannells is brilliant, but Cheadle steals the show: Mo’s lust for success turns him increasingly unhinged, and the Marvel star delivers a mesmerizing performance. 1980s excesses are lampooned to ridiculous degrees here, and even though its pop culture references can be a little heavy-handed, “Black Monday” is still an entertaining watch that fans of “Welcome to Chippendales” will no doubt adore. Sadly, the show was canceled in January 2022 after three seasons.
The 1980s weren’t just about male dancers and drug-fueled stock market parties. Some people’s American Dream isn’t to beat the world, but just to find a little happiness and excitement in it. Such was the case with Texas housewife Candy Montgomery, played by Jessica Biel in the 2022 Hulu limited series “Candy.” In the late 1970s, Candy moved to Collin County, Texas with her husband (Timothy Simons) and two young kids. She became good friends with local schoolteacher Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey) and more-than-good friends with Betty’s husband Allan (Pablo Schrieber). The two carried on an affair until 1980 when a confrontation between Candy and Betty occurred. No one but Candy knows for sure what happened that day, but police found Betty dead from 41 ax wounds.
The grisly case and its shocking trial have been the subject of morbid fascination for decades, inspiring a 1984 true crime novel, a made-for-TV movie in 1990, and several podcasts in recent years. There is a sense that the Hulu series, created by “The Act” producers Nick Antosca and Robin Veith, is treading familiar ground, but the lived-in details in the production design and stellar performances keep it feeling fresh. In some ways, the series benefits from being such a well-documented story; the draw isn’t shocking new revelations, but awaiting the inevitable.
“The Wire” creator David Simon brings his panoramic eye to 1970s Times Square in the HBO series “The Deuce.” Both sweeping and intimate, the show chronicles the rise of the adult film industry from peep shows and stag reels in the early 1970s to a billion-dollar business in the mid-1980s via a cast of characters swept up in the tides of history. James Franco plays identical twins Vincent and Frankie, mobbed-up brothers who run a bar and a massage parlor on Manhattan’s 42nd street (aka the Deuce). Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Candy, a veteran sex worker whose exhaustion with the life leads her to become an adult film performer and then a director in her own right.
Between the three of them they seem to meet every single person who crosses the Deuce, from the sex workers and hustlers at the bottom of the ladder to the mafia bosses who ran the adult entertainment industry in its early days and the politicians who seized on the moral panic surrounding adult films to gentrify Times Square and force out longtime residents. The arc of the series is that of an all-night party finally coming to an end. The old shakedowns are replaced by new, corporatized versions of the same thing, leading to a poignant and defiant epilogue. Fans of “Welcome to Chippendales” will find a lot to enjoy here.
Everyone knew something was wrong, but no one wanted to say anything, and those who did were not listened to. It’s a tale as old as time, but one that has become disturbingly prominent in 21st-century American business as a new breed of tech CEOs have bilked investors out of billions with little more than assertive personalities and magical thinking, promising the impossible to smart people who should know better. One of the most notorious cases of such fraud in recent years is the medical tech company Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, who promised to revolutionize patient care via technology that simply didn’t exist.
Holmes’ incredible rise and stunning fall have been chronicled in the book “Bad Blood” and the podcast “The Dropout.” In 2022, Hulu and creator Elizabeth Meriwether adapted the podcast as a limited series starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes and Naveen Andrews (who once played Chippendales founder Steve Banerjee in a 2000 TV movie) as her business and romantic partner Sunny Balwani. Meriwether and her collaborators (including “The Big Sick” director Michael Showalter) focus closely on the way Holmes designed her grift, from dressing like Steve Jobs and deepening her voice in public to cultivating friendships with older men, like former Secretary of State George Shultz (Sam Waterston), who protected her like a granddaughter. It’s a fascinating watch that fans of “Welcome to Chippendales” will love.
The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, or GLOW, was a distaff counterpart to the WWF in the mid-1980s, featuring female wrestlers with wild gimmicks tossing each other around the ring. But while the WWF found mainstream popularity and, as the WWE, is still going strong today, the GLOW era was brief and bright, lasting just three years. In 2017, Netflix premiered “GLOW,” a highly-fictionalized take on the story of the league. In an ironic twist, it also lasted just three years.
Alison Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, an acerbic, out-of-work actor who finds an unexpected new lease on life when she auditions for a pro wrestling show being produced by an immature rich kid (Christopher Lowell) and directed by frustrated auteur Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). The gig presents both technical challenges (Ruth is shocked to learn that the floor of the ring is not padded, as she’d assumed) and personal ones (her former best friend Debbie, played by Betty Gilpin, is also involved). The ladies face an uphill battle, not just in getting audiences interested in female pro wrestling, but in getting investors and executives to take the show seriously as entertainment. As the series goes on, Sam and Ruth’s prickly friendship becomes the unlikely heart of the show, as they both take the survival of GLOW onto their shoulders.
Not every tale of an immigrant reaching for the American Dream has to end in bloodshed and tragedy. There are often moments of hope and joy in the experiences of the newest Americans, and that positivity is the focus of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s 2020 Apple TV+ series “Little America.” Based on a series of profiles of the same name by Epic Magazine, the series is told in anthology format, with every installment focusing on one story and using a cast of mostly lesser-known actors to bring these experiences to life.
The show’s most well-known entry, and arguably the best example of Nanjiani and Gordon’s mission, is Episode 3, “The Cowboy.” Nigerian actor Uchenna “Conphidance” Echeazu stars as Iwegbuna, a young Nigerian economics student attending a university in Oklahoma. With no family or countrymen nearby, he finds himself drawn to the cowboy culture of his new home, as it reminds him of the Westerns he used to watch with his father in Nigeria. Soon, he is looking, dressing, and acting the part. Each episode is written and directed at a gentle pace; the stories are uplifting, but still aware of the hardships their characters face and the complicated relationships they have with their old and new homes.
“Welcome to Chippendales” is actually the second Robert Siegel-created true crime limited series to premiere on Hulu in 2022. In February, the streaming service released “Pam & Tommy,” a retelling of the tumultuous relationship between Pamela Anderson (Lily James, unrecognizable under makeup and prosthetics) and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan). Lee and Anderson were tabloid fixtures in the 1990s, but their romance arguably changed the world in 1997, when a contractor (Seth Rogen, who produced with regular collaborator Evan Goldberg) who was working on their house stumbled on a homemade sex tape and uploaded it to the internet.
The world wide web was still something of a novelty in 1997, at least as far as general consumers saw it. The release of the Pam Anderson sex tape spurred interest in this new technology in a way that little had before. The issues that it raised about online privacy, revenge porn, and even the extent that what happens on the internet is “real” are still ongoing more than 25 years later. Despite the seriousness of the crime and the impact it continues to have today, Siegel keeps the tone light for the most part, though he isn’t afraid to lean into debauchery — in the instantly infamous Episode 2, Lee has a heartfelt conversation with his penis, voiced by comedian Jason Mantzoukas.
Writer Craig Pearce is best known for his collaborations with filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, but in 2022 he paired up with a different music-obsessed director in Danny Boyle for the FX limited series “Pistol.” Based on the memoir by former Sex Pistols member Steve Jones, the series chronicles the seminal punk band as it hits the British music scene like a dirty bomb, flashing briefly (the band’s entire recorded output can be listened to before the first episode ends) but infecting everything around them for generations to come.
Pearce and Boyle assembled a cast of young, unknown faces to conjure not just the band, but the entire mid-1970s London punk scene, which the Sex Pistols took by storm. The most recognizable actors in the cast are “Game of Thrones” alumni Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the Pistols’ controlling manager Malcolm McLaren and Maisie Williams as punk rock fashion model Jordan.
The series can get a little bogged down in clichéd biopic business and the doomed romance between Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) and bassist Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge), but Boyle’s direction keeps things fast and furious. He shoots in the boxy, nostalgic standard aspect ratio, and the band feels like they might burst straight out of the television and start destroying the furniture in your house.
Between “The Dropout” and the Apple TV+ limited series “WeCrashed,” 2022 was a year for taking stock of start-up culture. Say what you will about Elizabeth Holmes (who in November 2022 was sentenced to over 11 years for fraud), at least Theranos was scamming investors with the promise of something new and revolutionary. Adam and Rebekah Neumann, the power couple at the center of “WeCrashed,” were promising nothing but real estate.
Adam and his business partner Miguel McKelvey founded the shared office space company WeWork in 2010. By the end of the decade, there were WeWork locations in cities all over the world and the company was worth billions thanks to investments from SoftBank and other venture capitalists. The only problem, as is so often the case, was at the top: Adam and Rebekah’s vision for the company was something between a tech start-up and a never-ending office party.
“WeCrashed,” based on the Wondery podcast of the same name, focuses on the Neumanns (played by Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway) at the height of their power. Leto’s performance is typically over the top, but Hathaway is captivating from the start as a woman constantly searching for meaning in her life. Together, they form a potent cult of personality, with an emphasis on “cult.”
Nick De Noia was an Emmy-winning producer, screenwriter, and director when he took over choreography duties for Chippendales shows. Handsome and outgoing, he quickly became the public face of the company, much to the chagrin of Steve Banerjee. After De Noia left the company, his contract stipulated that he still had rights to the Chippendales name for use in touring shows, and the battle between him and Banerjee over this detail eventually turned fatal.
In “Welcome to Chippendales,” De Noia is played by Australian actor Murray Bartlett. He has been on screen for over 30 years but he is best known to American audiences for playing beleaguered concierge Armond in the first season of “The White Lotus.” Mike White’s portrait of a luxury Hawaiian hotel and its wealthy guests uses Armond as the connective tissue between the intersecting storylines, his chipper professionalism barely masking the fact that he is about to crack under the pressure of every impossible request from the hotel’s privileged clientele.
A stressful week turns unbearable when Armond runs afoul of a newlywed (Jake Lacy at his most punchable) who didn’t get the suite he wanted, and then somehow gets worse when a lost purse full of prescription drugs challenges his hard-won sobriety. Armond isn’t the hero of the story by any stretch — there aren’t really any heroes to be found in White’s universe — but anyone who has worked customer service can certainly sympathize with his descent into madness.
Steve Banerjee’s vision for Chippendales was a place that would appeal to women in the same way that traditional strip clubs appeal to men; a place to congregate, to have a good time, and spend a lot of money. One of the club’s first and biggest fans is Denise, played in “Welcome to Chippendales” by Juliette Lewis. Denise loves the club, and her enthusiasm for the project soon gets her a job within the organization, assisting Nick with choreography duties. Before long, her duties become less about putting on a good show and managing the Chippendales franchise in New York, and more about playing go-between for Steve and Nick, who are increasingly at odds.
Lewis has been a film and television star for decades now, and she brings wildcard energy to any project she appears in. That’s especially true in the Showtime mystery series “Yellowjackets.” Creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson drew on classic survival tales like “The Lord of the Flies” and “Alive” for the story of the Yellowjackets, a high school girls’ soccer team from New Jersey that gets stranded in the Canadian wilderness in 1996 after a plane crash. 25 years later, the now-grown survivors of that ordeal are still trying to move on with their lives, but it becomes clear that the terrible, possibly supernatural experiences they faced in the woods are still haunting them. The gripping first season leaves viewers with a lot of questions, but, thankfully, Showtime has ordered a second season, scheduled to premiere in the first half of 2023.