‘The Fake Tan Godfather’: How the Chippendales became TV dynamite | Television
Fa while ago, the Chippendales were unmissable. Polished and polished to perfection, strutting around in nothing but bow ties and cuffs like the unwitting victims of the world’s smartest tuxedo thieves, the cast of male strippers seemed unstoppable. Formed in 1979, in just a few years they have gone from being a weekday filler in a failing bar to a success straddling the world. But then everything went wrong.
While they’re still technically an ongoing concern – their only remaining Las Vegas act’s website promises a “mantastic, sex-god, abs party,” while their online store features everything from Santa hats to dildos – public interest has long since waned. What began as a truly electrifying form of entertainment, providing women with the same thrills men took for granted for centuries, has now become kitsch and quaint; a remnant of a world that has long since ceased to exist.
However, that doesn’t mean the Chippendales aren’t big business. Earlier this year, Gimlet Media released a series of podcasts called Welcome to Your Fantasy, which put their success in some truly crazy context. If you’ve listened, you’ll know that the group eventually descended into chaos when its founder was caught up in an orgy of racketeering, arson and murder.
Soon after, a Hulu TV series, Immigrant, was announced, with Kumail Nanjiani set to play its founder, Somen “Steve” Banerjee. Although this series is still in development, we now have Curse of the Chippendales, a Discovery+ series available in the UK on Amazon Prime. Suddenly, anyone with a passing interest in the rise and fall of a specific stripper troupe finds themselves spoiled for choice.
And it’s no wonder, because the history of the Chippendales is breathtaking. Across four episodes, Curse of the Chippendales unfolds like an airport pacy paperback. There is sex. There are drugs. There are mules. There are men in skimpy pants that stick their genitals into bowler hats. There is a success that comes so fast that no one really knows how to deal with it. And then, at the end, there is tragedy upon tragedy. It’s like watching The Godfather, if the cast of The Godfather had just painted themselves orange and developed a crippling addiction to Veet.
The series captures the giddy hysteria of early Chippendale shows, where polished men with WWE haircuts bask in the adulation of women who, a few years earlier, were in the grip of Beatlemania. Initially, the company is presented to viewers as fun and frothy. Then we cut to the interviewees, who sit in front of harsh lights, their voices ruined by decades of chain smoking. These people, one quickly realizes, have seen things. They chased away the euphoria of the first few days a little too much, and their bodies have struggled to catch up since. It’s a bittersweet hint of what’s to come.
Because, halfway through the four episodes of the season, we see the success of the Chippendales begin to gallop out of control. The bigger they get, the more opposition they encounter. Religious groups begin to organize demonstrations. The clubs are set on fire. The lawsuits accumulate, the accusations of racism fuse. And, internally, the two men in charge are locked in a battle for total control of the group. Soon one of them died. At this point, Curse of the Chippendales becomes a true crime documentary.
I will refrain from too many spoilers, even though they are all widely available to anyone with an internet connection, but the final episode takes the form of a crushing and relentless police procedural as the authorities uncover what happened behind the scenes. You can see why Immigrant was rushed into series so quickly with source material like this. It will almost certainly be a combination of GLOW and American Crime Story, and it has the potential to be really, really good.
More than anything, however, Curse of the Chippendales is a neat reminder that the act wasn’t quite as kitsch as you remember. Look anywhere in 2021 — Love Island, Instagram, the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and you’ll see society has embraced the band’s aesthetic wholesale. Haircuts may have changed, but bodies — all tanned, muscular and hairless — have become mainstream. Three decades ago, the only way to experience this kind of obsessively perfected male body was to swing to a bachelorette party where a Magnum PI lookalike would pound your crotch. Now even Ant-Man looks like a Chippendale. There is a legacy if you’ve ever seen one.
Curse of the Chippendales is now on Amazon Prime; welcome to Your Fantasy is available on all podcast platforms