The calendars have arrived! And, perhaps for the first time since we started following Steve’s unlikely rise as Chippendales’ mastermind, we see him bluntly express the way he’s bought into whiteness as a necessary corollary for American success. For despite Otis (Quentin Plair) being the club’s most sought after dancer, he finds himself staring a lily-white pin-up Chippendales calendar that quite explicitly excludes him. The move is quite an obvious slap in the face, one followed by more examples where he’s taken for granted and loaded with extra work as the rest of the dancers get to bask in the joyous thrills of calendar sales and mall appearances (related: remember malls?).
What’s most troubling about Otis’ storyline is the way Steve (Kumail Nanjiani) responds. Because any kind of explanation that begins with “You know how white people are…” is just never going to be followed by anything but white supremacist talking points. Take, for instance, Steve’s explanation that while (white) women will gladly ogle and paw Otis in person, there’s less likelihood they’d buy and display a calendar that features a nearly-nude Black Chippendales dancer in their homes or offices.
The pragmatism Steve displays (“You can’t take this personally. This is business. And in business, there’s only one color that matters: green.”) is insidious precisely because it’s both shield and cudgel. If all you care about is capital, then you’re going to do little (or nothing, really) to disturb the status quo so long as you’re making money—even if you continue to experience its effects when you try to dine out with your wife at a nice restaurant. In fact, you’ll make moves that uphold it and tell yourself that that is the only way to succeed. Sure, Steve experiences his fair share of racism but he’s far more interested in making coin. What Steve learns from his being excluded with talk of memberships isn’t to question how such systems are designed expressly to maintain a worldview that doesn’t make room for folks like him but to merely replicate it in his own club. This is why it’s so hard to disentangle capitalism from racism/white supremacy; the two make great (and mutually beneficial) bedfellows.
This is, of course, made all the worse because of the numbers Otis, the marquee name at Chippendales, is pushed to perform, like the “pimp” one we see him expertly execute this episode. Kudos to Plair who makes the dancer’s encroaching discomfort at being solely seen as a slab of meat that enriches his boss ever more evident. Otis knows he’s being exploited and slowly edged out and the way he tries to outwit and outmaneuver Steve (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) is a cruel reminder of the eroding power of the scarcity model.
If Welcome To Chippendales is painting a portrait of the way white supremacy doesn’t even require white folks to operate, you need not look further than to see how Otis’ reticence to buy into Steve’s arguably racist policies is juxtaposed with Rey’s (Robin de Jesus) wholehearted endorsement and encouragement of his boss’ decisions. It makes sense that Steve, in wanting to have more control of his business (see: buying the printing press) would find himself leaning on someone who never questions his every move (like, say, his wife and Nick would).
Speaking of, we get to do a “Meanwhile in New York City…” cut here:
Nick (Murray Bartlett) is trying to make it out on his own out on the East Coast. Only, turns out that selling wealthy guys in New York on the prospect of a “Studio 54 for the ’80s” anchored by semi-naked male dancers is a harder proposition than the Emmy-winning choreographer had anticipated. Try as he might, it seems that what can work in the Valley is a harder sell in the town that prides itself on showmanship and spectacle at a Broadway level. Who knew “It’s Folies Bergère meets Playboy” isn’t the pitch investors wanted to hear back then?
Well, thankfully, Nick is a charming cad and he finds an investor eager to make the whole thing happen. The “whole thing” being: “Chippendales East,” yes, but also a sex-fueled connection that is clearly headed for more. And so, we leave our merry band of Chippendales as their calendar sales continue to rise high and as the onslaught of an East Coast franchise looms ahead, even as Steve continues to self-fashion himself into a mogul who needs no one’s advice but his own. Rey may call him a king but rather than it feeling like a compliment it feels like a warning. It may not be the snakes in the grass that get him but his own hubris.
- Every show could benefit from “more Andrew Rannells singing Broadway staples.” Also (1): We need to further debate who is right about which Company song is more romantic (my vote? “Being Alive” #TeamBradford). Also (2): the most relatable part of this encounter is the seamless way in which two gay men in New York City bonding over Stephen Sondheim doubles as flirtatious foreplay. 10/10 for accuracy.
- Speaking of, I loved Bradford and Nick’s post-coital scene where they speak candidly about their own approach to their sexuality and the attendant openness around it. It’s in those moments when I think Welcome To Chippendales is offering some much needed nuanced depictions of what it means to live and grow up in a world that’s not designed for you—be you an immigrant, a gay man, a Black man, a kid from PR via the Bronx…
- It’s bad that I wish Juliette Lewis would slap me, yes?
- “Not a soft cock in the room” truly is a great way to describe good business, right? No homoerotic underpinnings there, no way. See also: the way Nick pitches Steve on avoiding going to war, with sex and violence seemingly being the only ways men can speak to one another.
- I continue to be enthralled by Nanjiani’s performance, which keeps most of Steve’s interiority shrouded in mystery. It’s a choice, of course, what with Steve’s laconic demeanor and stoic poise. He’s rigid almost to a fault but I sometimes worry it leaves us as an audience at a remove. Perhaps this will change as the series goes on but I worry he’s being left a cipher when we should be diving deeper into his own mind.