The week in TV: Welcome to Chippendales; Harry: The Interview; The US and the Holocaust; The Reunion
Welcome to Chippendales | Disney+Harry: The Interview (ITV) | ITVXThe US and the Holocaust (BBC Four) | iPlayerThe Reunion (ITV) | ITVX
I expected much of Welcome to Chippendales, the new Disney+ true crime drama about the twisted 1970s/80s origins of the international male exotic dancer troupe. Muscle men in “breakaway” trousers. Women stuffing dollars into PVC posing pouches. A thongs-first Boogie Nights-esque tale of sleaze, betrayal and catastrophe with a thumping disco heartbeat. This is what I wanted, baby, and I wanted it bad, but could it deliver?
Inspired by the book Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders by K Scot Macdonald and Patrick MontesDeOca, and created by Robert Siegel (Pam & Tommy), the show stars Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) as Mumbai-born businessman Somen, who, status-obsessed and admiring of Hugh Hefner, renames himself Steve and dreams up the notion of male strippers for female audiences. Early on, Dan Stevens and Nicola Peltz Beckham are superb as promoter Paul Snider and Playboy model Dorothy Stratten. Elsewhere, Juliette Lewis is a designer, while the glorious Murray Bartlett (Armond in the first series of The White Lotus) plays visionary choreographer Nick De Noia.
WTC evolves into a filthy hot-tub of ambition and sexual mores, foaming up into greed, racism, paranoia and disaster. The oversexed/ megaconcept Chippendales routines (“Dr Hunkenstein”) serve as camp, fake tan-streaked respites from the escalating frictions between Steve and Nick. It’s brazen, inverted sexism (would female strippers be played for giggles?), but here it’s inevitable, and it helps. Running at eight episodes, Welcome to Chippendales is overlong, and too often the pace sags like a sweat-soaked loincloth. Still, it remains an interesting watch, with a sparky soundtrack (Donna Summer; Wire; the Sweet). You understand where Nanjiani is going with his stiff, intense take on Steve: he is, after all, an immigrant, an outsider, watching his American dream atomise into a nightmare.
Talking of the American dream, it’s been a week for wondering whether Prince Harry is living it or crawling out concussed from under it. “Leaks” don’t adequately describe what emanated from his book, Spare, pre-publication – this was more of a gusher: press intrusion; losing his virginity; drugs; “Megxit”; royal funerals; brotherly fisticuffs; broken dog bowls …
Poor Netflix. Where was all this turbo-oversharing when it shelled out kazillions for the uber-vanilla, six-hour Harry & Meghan? Spare’s ensuing US PR-blitz included everything from 60 Minutes (available to watch here on ITVX), during which Anderson Cooper asked Harry why he didn’t give up his royal titles (“What difference would it make?” came the slightly gnomic response), to Harry downing tequila shots on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Back in Blighty, there was ITV’s own Harry: The Interview, with Tom Bradby, the journalist who fatefully asked Meghan how she was feeling (“Not OK”) in South Africa. As Harry settled, speaking first, movingly, of his mother Diana’s death when he was aged 12, he may have been expecting a 90-minute easy ride, but he didn’t get it.
Evidently, Bradby had no intention of “doing an Oprah”: soft-balling questions; trashing his own professional integrity. Though he did let some things slide, such as asking no questions on Harry’s alarming revelations about the Taliban fighter deaths he’d been involved in while serving in Afghanistan (expressed in a measured way in Spare, but still deeply troubling in terms of his young family’s security).
Elsewhere, Bradby pushed back on princely backtracking about “racism” regarding son Archie’s skin colour (Harry now terms it unconscious bias) and royal ructions: “You’ve put enormous amounts of private conversations into the public domain.” Harry visibly flushed, when really he should be grateful for moderately tough interviews that jolt him out of overtherapised auto-speak and repetitive complaints. Exhibit A: his non-revelation about royal press collusion – dude, even those who didn’t already guess this really don’t care.
Here was a reasonably articulate Harry flying solo, without Meghan – alleged wicked queen/arch-puppeteer – at his side. I felt such sympathy for them when they left the UK; despite everything, I still do. Still, so much for my thoughts after watching the Netflix marathon – that the post-regal reality stars were running out of material. I humbly stand corrected.
Over on BBC Four, there’s a stirring, meticulous and erudite colossus of a documentary, The US and the Holocaust, made by the award-garlanded American documentarian Ken Burns (The Statue of Liberty; The Civil War), with Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein.
Over three harrowing episodes (two hours apiece, all on iPlayer), Burns and assorted Holocaust survivors, writers and historians forensically unravel the often bleak reaction of countries such as the US to the suffering of the European Jewish population under Nazi rule. It follows Adolf Hitler’s excruciating antisemitic trajectory, from the scapegoating and subjugation of Jewish citizens to, ultimately, the death camps and the “final solution”.
When I say reaction, I mean the increasingly inexcusable under-reaction of the US, and other countries, to the Jewish plight. While the main focus is the Nazis, the Statue of Liberty and all it purportedly stands for is also under scrutiny here. Although President Franklin D Roosevelt sympathised with the Jewish people, there is a recurring theme of them being barely helped, even actively impeded – particularly in terms of paltry immigration quotas – and covert and overt antisemitism riddling the US.
Anne Frank features – not only the famously humanising diary, but also the news that her father, Otto, applied for a US visa before taking the family into hiding. The documentary ends by touching on the modern-day US right. Devastating as it is to watch, as survivors grow fewer in number, rigorous, watertight documentaries such as this can be the first defence against Holocaust revisionism.
I was mightily intrigued by the sound of six-part drama The Reunion (ITV), starring Ioan Gruffudd and Dervla Kirwan, which is based on Guillaume Musso’s bestselling novel about English and French friends reuniting after 25 years, still haunted by the disappearance of a friend, with some hiding their secrets.
Excellent, I thought; it sounds a bit like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History set on the French Riviera. Alas, two episodes in I give up: it’s confused, over-soapy tosh with way too many flashbacks. It’s made even odder by the fact that Kirwan plays Gruffudd’s mum, despite being only two years his senior. The cheek of it! I know we’re always desperate for a decent thriller, but this is one to swerve.
Star ratings (out of five)Welcome to Chippendales ★★★Harry – The Interview ★★★The US and the Holocaust ★★★★★The Reunion ★★
What else I’m watching
George & Tammy(Paramount Plus)A drama series about country music couple Tammy “Stand By Your Man” Wynette and George Jones, starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon. Initially it looks like odd casting (is Chastain too patrician-looking for Tammy?), but it’s well acted and absorbing.
Blood, Sweat and Cheer(BBC Three)After the huge success of the Netflix docuseries Cheer, here’s a documentary about a Welsh cheerleading group, featuring some disabled members, as they compete in the US.
The Apprentice(BBC One)It’s back. The latest flock of entrepreneurs, with eerily similar The Only Way Is Corporate styling, compete for £250k investment. Each week they face the toughest challenge of all – mustering fake laughter for Lord Sugar’s boardroom jokes.