‘Welcome to Chippendales’: Where the American Dream Becomes a Nightmare

The true-crime series cleverly leans into the typical immigrant tropes before taking a dark turn.

Sadaf Ahsan

November 22, 2022

‘Welcome to Chippendales’: Where the American Dream Becomes a Nightmare
Kumail Nanjinai as Somen Banerjee in Chippendales Season 1 (Hulu)

In the opening scene of Hulu’s Welcome to Chippendales, Somen Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), a gas station employee, is stocking the bread shelf. Two white teenagers nearby suddenly sprint for the doors, and he chases them. In response, the shoplifters mock his Indian accent. As Somen threatens to call the police, they pour a stolen can of pop all over his jacket, noting his name tag and mocking his name, too, before running away, leaving a helpless and humiliated Somen to clean up after them. The scene is as heartbreaking as it is familiar — a hardworking immigrant new to America, ostracized by the society they are working so hard to fit into. But the tone changes as his eye spots something: a fallen nameplate, the kinds you can find at convenience or tourist shops. This one is a bright blue California plate that reads “Steve” in big, yellow letters. Simple, easy, hard to mock. It plants the seed for who Somen will soon become: Steve Banerjee, a gas station attendant-turned-strip club boss-turned-killer — an entirely different kind of immigrant story. 

A real-life one, in fact. Welcome to Chippendales, an eight-episode campy comedy-drama that premieres on Hulu today, explores the true story of Banerjee’s business prowess, the prejudice he faced as an Indian American in the 1970s and 1980s, and his hand in creating a male strip show specifically for (white) women. As creator and writer Robert Siegel told Vanity Fair, he viewed the Hulu series as “a chance to say a lot of things about the American dream, about capitalism, about assimilation, and what it means to be an American.” Welcome to Chippendales, then, offers up an American dream that isn’t always so wholesome, where every aspiration isn’t solely about how to build a better life but about how to be rich, famous, and leave your past behind — whatever the cost.