Metro Weekly

Finding Magic Mike review: HBO’s competition series is bulging with talent and sex appeal

They came, they stripped, they bonded like brothers, but only one man goes home the winner on HBO Max's "Finding Magic Mike."

Finding Magic Mike: Kevin Klass, Johnny Dutch, Michael Thantrong, Adonis Frank, Jiovanni Jones, Nate Bryan, Merlin Leon, Austin Arizpe, Ross, Harris, Ricky Negron — Photo: Bridget Bennett/HBO Max

For a reality competition series filled with nearly naked men lap-dancing, Finding Magic Mike (★★★☆☆) is surprisingly wholesome fare. Sure, the Vegas-set show doesn’t shy away from male objectification, proudly waving buns, bulges, and pulchritudinous pecs in our faces.

Yet, much like the Channing Tatum movies that begat the live stage revue, which led us here, Finding Magic Mike shamelessly serves up beefcake with an underlying feel-good sincerity that’s disarmingly sweet. Even with $100,000 on the line, nice guys don’t finish last in this competition, and the results are no less entertaining.

The series’ producers — including Tatum and Magic Mike director Steven Soderbergh — easily might have taken the seven-episode season in a more heated Housewives direction. A TV villain or two certainly lurks among the diverse assembly of contestants.

But the show leans on brotherhood, rather than backstabbing, as host and lead judge Adam Rodriguez, who played stripper Tito in the Mike movies, presides over the process of narrowing the initial 50 competitors down to a final ten.

Wearing a constant smirk that says he’s not taking any of this too seriously, Rodriguez teases in episode one that the wannabe Mikes won’t all look like what one might expect. Indeed, while a few fit the uber-fit bill of pumped muscle man-candy, several of the contestants rest comfortably on the dad-bod spectrum.

Hailing from all over the country, and all walks of life, from lawyer to bouncer to shoe salesman, these guys aren’t competing to be the hottest exotic dancer, but to be the most confident, charismatic version of themselves. Or so the show keeps reminding us while challenging the men to train, rehearse, and perform onstage as if they were part of the cast of the stripper-meets-cirque spectacle Magic Mike Live.

The show also reminds us that, in addition to the six-figure cash prize, the winner could be asked to join the cast of Magic Mike Live, in Vegas, London, or Berlin. So, contrary to the all-shapes-are-beautiful, “find your inner magic” message they’re leading with, the judges do end up favoring guys who look exactly like what one might expect, just not entirely. They mix it up enough to appear inclusive, and maintain a balance of appealing personalities.

Confidence and charisma are rewarded as highly as looking great naked, or the ability to dolphin dive into the crotch of an excited female audience member. Hands-on participation is all in good fun for the focus group-style crowds of women — with a smattering of gay men — brought in to watch the amateurs bump and grind to Ginuwine or Drake songs alongside the pros.

The producers also bring in a lineup of guest female celebrities — Amanda Seales, Whitney Cummings, and Nicole Scherzinger, to name a few — at each episode’s climactic live show to liven up the crowd and the commentary.

Not adding a Mario Cantone or Carson Kressley to offer spicy opinions seems a missed opportunity, but the Magic Mike franchise, while gay friendly, tries hard to be “for the ladies.” Queer representation, at least among these contestants, is limited to a Mormon twink who identifies as bisexual and a former track-and-field star who remains coy on the subject, but also boldly jokes about taking partners from behind.

So Finding Magic Mike isn’t always that wholesome. The humor, not the series’ strongest attribute, rarely rises above locker-room level innuendo. And one pot-stirring contestant makes a whole storyline out of preferring to go commando, because he’s just so well-endowed.

He also claims to have no idea why the focus group audiences keep arriving at the same verdict on him, that he’s too cocky. If he truly doesn’t get the cockiness criticism, the show’s editors do. He becomes a rather dramatic example of a loser, while more humble men prosper in the show’s search for its ultimate fantasy, a man endowed with as much decency as talent and sex appeal.

Finding Magic Mike season 1 is available for streaming on HBO Max. Visit www.hbomax.com.

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