Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Welcome To Chippendales unleashes “Hunkenstein”

In “Velveeta,” Steve and Nick butt heads over a dance number and a pin-up calendar

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Richie (Michael Graceffa)
Richie (Michael Graceffa)
Photo: Jessica Brooks/Hulu

If Steve Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) is the protagonist of the Greek tragedy that is Welcome To Chippendales, this episode allowed us to see what might be his hubristic weakness. Namely, his desire to be successful in America—a goal he understands as also becoming a “successful American.” The distinction may sound immaterial (aren’t those the same thing?) but to him they are intertwined but not necessarily synonymous. It’s one thing to have a booming business in the United States. It’s quite another to truly embody the self-made myth that so characterizes American “success.”

Arguably, this is what his trip back to India to see his mother highlights. And there’s a way in which his interactions with his melancholy mother, who seems truly content being “middle class” in India, further make Steve’s choices all the more incredible. “We did not need saving by America,” she tells him as a way of getting him to let go of whatever dreams he’s been building abroad. Only he can’t. He may have begun a business his mother will always be ashamed of in a country she has no time for, but he remains convinced that Los Angeles and the Chippendales are his ticket toward a semblance of dignity and success. There’s hubris there and clearly a rather blunt kind of foreshadowing courtesy of his mother: “I worry about you,” she tells him. “Some people are not meant to be rich.”

Advertisement

Of course this only emboldens Steve to return back to the United States with a clearer goal in mind. If his own mother won’t admit that what he’s built is proof of his success, what he needs to do is make sure that he wholly own it. After all, Chippendales can only be a Banerjee success story if it is only a Banerjee success story. That can only be the case if the club and its entertainment are solely his domain. Which means sidelining Nick (Murray Bartlett) who, along with Denise (Juliette Lewis), is intent on revolutionizing the “form” of the stripping dance.

And yes, as ridiculous as such a sentence sounds, it’s clear Nick is bringing not just a Broadway kind of pizzazz to his choreographed numbers, but that he’s eager to elevate the artistry of “men dance to take their clothes off.” He’s an artist at heart. Or so he likes to tell himself. Why else would you dream up a Frankenstein number wherein your main dancer will inevitably be constructed from the very best, ahem, parts of the rest of your ensemble?

Advertisement

If the schematic here being presented feels almost too blunt (Nick’s the creative artist; Steve’s the humorless entrepreneur), it at least sets up the central tension between these two men. So no, Nick won’t get his elaborate number but Steve, alongside his new acolyte Ray (Robin de Jesús), has come up with a no-brainer of a money-making scheme: a calendar.

Is he needlessly petty about it in keeping Nick and Denise in the dark and does he go about it in the most passive-aggressive way possible? Sure. But then that seems to be the only way Steve gets anything done. He doesn’t and won’t let himself be anyone’s number two. If that requires hardening himself even more and deluding himself into believing he can do it alone (Ray is, if nothing else, the worst kind of “yes man” he could’ve come across), well, then so be it.

Advertisement
Nick (Murray Bartlett)
Nick (Murray Bartlett)
Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu

That it’s all wrapped up in insecurities Steve has about his own self-worth and the choices he’s made in his life make those moments, as funny as they’re played here, also decidedly melancholy. Steve will never settle for what is. If there’s a reason he, unlike his parents, decided to head to “America,” it was because he would always want more. Nick’s ambition may be wholly artistic (it’s why he doesn’t want to just be Sisyphus) but Steve’s is capitalistic—and also rather self-serving.

Advertisement

(I will say, the moment when he comes up with the idea for the calendar as he reminisces about his father’s printing business, was, perhaps, almost too twee. Sometimes you can see the gears grinding in the way an episode is written when you need to get from point A to point B and that particular transition felt, if not forced, rather clumsy.)

Standing in between Steve and his wild ideas for the Chippendales brand is Nick. Their rivalry has long been a source of aggrieved tension between them, so it makes sense it would come to a boil over something as ridiculous as Hunkenstein on the one hand and a makeshift pin-up calendar on the other. And so we end with a parting of the ways. At least it looks that way with Nick finally deciding to leave Steve and the club behind as he heads to New York City. But what could the Big Apple really offer him? Will it be a fresh start or will he eventually find his way back to Chippendales?

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • I love cocaine!” Arguably the 1980s in a nutshell, no?
  • Honestly, I’m very happy we’re getting full-on numbers (that rotating bed!) and now I’m even sadder that we won’t get to see the full staging of Nick and Denise’s feverish “Hunkenstein” creation. And along those lines, I appreciate the way the show itself embraces its own horniness.
  • That said, at least we got various glimpses of the ridiculous photographic setups the calendar called for. Which, by the looks of it, was endlessly fun for Nanjiani, de Jesús, and the entire Chippendales ensemble: I bet there’s an entire bloopers reel of Nanjiani-as-Steve’s many directions. (My favorite? “Now, you are in the girl’s house but you are not married!”)
  • Analeigh Ashford and Juliette Lewis make for such great scene partners: Their patter while on cocaine at the bar (“Is he gay?” “Sometimes!”) was, as the kids these days say (perhaps they’ve stopped saying it already?), sending me.