There's a scene in 2015's Magic Mike XXL that feels indelibly consigned to the annals of film history forever. I'm sure you know the one — where our beloved and endearing group of male revue dancers decides to pop a little MDMA while road tripping to a stripping convention in Myrtle Beach. A pit stop at a gas station leads to an impromptu performance for the cashier courtesy of Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) while his friends enthusiastically cheer him on the entire time. It's a moment that isn't merely about admiring the male physique — even if there are plenty of muscle groups on display. The reason this sequence set to Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" feels so incredibly, face-splittingly joyful is because of what it offers up: men rallying around one of their own to embrace his most assured and carefree self, especially because Richie's biggest emotional journey throughout the film involves expressing verbal doubts about whether or not he can even successfully strip anymore. It's that philosophy — one that helps a small group of men rediscover confidence in themselves — that unashamedly threads through the entirety of Season 1 of Finding Magic Mike, the reality competition show executive produced by Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh (and hosted by franchise cast member Adam Rodriguez) that premiered in its entirety on HBO Max last month.
The Cliff's Notes premise is this: 50 men (later whittled down to 25 and then a top 10 after a few initial elimination rounds) have entered the show in an attempt to capture, or maybe even recover, their "magic." For some, that entails tapping into a side of themselves they've never really delved into before; for others, that means developing more self-assurance in regards to pursuing intimacy with their partners. Whatever the reason, they get a chance to do it by baring a lot more than their bodies — and over the weeks of competition that follow, with only one winner chosen to receive $100,000, these potential "Mikes" are tasked with not only staggering amounts of choreography to memorize but just as many exercises that are designed to strip them down to the most vulnerable version of themselves.
That's not to say that there isn't skin on display — but it'd be misleading to claim that Finding Magic Mike only consists of a lot of defined abs and pelvic lines. One of the many, many delightful aspects of this show is the variety of bodies that get the chance to strut their stuff on-stage; one contestant, early on, proudly proclaims that the judges (consisting of Rodriguez, Magic Mike Live executive producer Vince Marini, and film/live show choreographers Alison Faulk and Luke Broadlick) will have his "dad bod" to work with the first time the group is required to take their shirts off in public. It's a refreshing change of pace from the sizes that so often get centered or considered attractive, and the show is just as happy to embrace the inherent sexiness in a lap dance offered by someone who doesn't have a six-pack as it is to cheer on guys with thigh muscles that might rival the size of an adult human head.
Normally, this would be a formula ripe for emotions brewing over; in watching these guys sweat it out through weeks of grueling dance training before leaving it all on the floor (sometimes literally), who could blame them if they wound up feeling a bit testy? But while other reality competition shows might have orchestrated ways for contestants to end up at each other's throats, there's only the overwhelming sense of a brotherhood being forged among this tight-knit group. Elimination ceremonies are cause for waterworks on more than one level, not simply because these men have become emotionally close but because they're willing to say they love each other, out loud and unapologetically. When one of the Mikes gets injured right before it's time to roll camera on the final challenge that week, it's an intense pain that ripples right through the rest of the group (dwindled down to a top 5 by then), and it's eventually with him in mind that they're able to pick themselves back up and soldier through their performance — saying all the while that it's what he would have wanted them to do. And truly, there's nothing more exhilarating than watching these men pull off a complicated dance, or twist and tumble in a thrilling aerial routine, or commit to a sexy rain dance even while trying to ensure their partner's safety throughout — except for the part where you know they're absolutely having the time of their life.
With the first season of Finding Magic Mike, there's already so much to love — although if the show continues on for more seasons to come (which it absolutely should), it'd be wonderful to see it double-down on the inclusive casting that it's already waded into. Several contestants in Season 1, including one of the finalists, openly identify themselves as non-straight, but why stop at only cis male bodies? What this series has undeniably proven is that it can introduce a reality competition title into the existing TV landscape that's primarily rooted in acceptance and encouragement rather than obviously concocted drama. But the best aspects of Finding Magic Mike revolve around its ability to not only challenge its contestants, but those of us watching at home, to rethink what we believe we know about healthy definitions of masculinity, intimacy, and emotions — and the result is one of the most wholesome, uplifting, and exciting shows that you should be watching.
Season 1 of Finding Magic Mike is currently available to stream on HBO Max.
They also discussed how many times they had to listen to the song "Pony" while working on the 'Magic Mike' franchise.