The Full Monty TV Series Review: FX Revives Beloved '90s Movie

The Full Monty TV Series Review: FX Revives Beloved ’90s Movie

The hit British film “The Full Monty” — for a brief period in 1997, the most lucrative release in U.K. history — was, in some ways, the original “Magic Mike.” The comedy chronicled six unemployed ex-steelworkers in post-Thatcher North England as they formed a stripping troupe. (The name referred to the strippers’ willingness to bare all, genitalia included.) By treating sex work as a symbol of larger economic malaise, “The Full Monty” anticipated the approach Steven Soderbergh would take stateside over two decades later. 

“Magic Mike” has since ballooned into a full-blown phenomenon spanning a trilogy of films, a reality show and a globally successful stage revue. “The Full Monty” has, until now, resisted such expansion. (There have been a handful of stage adaptations, though nothing on the scale of “Magic Mike Live.”) But on June 14, FX will stream all eight episodes of a TV sequel, also called “The Full Monty,” on Hulu. The show carries the same set of core characters a quarter century into the future — minus the nudity, but retaining the same bittersweet mix of working class social realism and irreverent humor to take the edge off. Even affable British indies, it would seem, are not immune from the modern IP boom.

The protagonists of “The Full Monty” have aged out of exotic dancing; one, Horse (Paul Barber), now relies on a motorized scooter to get around Sheffield. But they’ve held onto their hustle, an eye for small-time schemes incentivized by a thinning social safety net and lack of steady work. Ringleader Gaz (Robert Carlyle) recruits mentally ill graffiti artist Ant (Arnold Oceng), insisting he’ll manage his would-be client to fame and fortune if they can just wean Ant off his meds. Lomper (Steve Huison) goes deeply into debt pursuing a pipe dream involving a Dutch racing pigeon. To preserve his access to public assistance, Horse resolves to make the hourlong drive to his appointment on his scooter.

Along with the cast, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy serves as a bridge to the original, ensuring tonal continuity. Directors Andrew Chaplin and Catherine Morshead take over for Peter Cattaneo, while Beaufoy is joined by co-writer Alice Nutter. (Nutter is a former member of the rock band Chumbawamba; the chorus of the group’s smash single “Tubthumping” — “I get knocked down, but I get up again” — could be the motto of pretty much any member of the series’ ensemble.) But the most important additions to “The Full Monty” are in front of the camera as Nutter and Beaufoy introduce new characters, each of whom updates the unlikely franchise for 2023 while preserving its underlying ethos.

Such figures include Gaz’s daughter Destiny (Talitha Wing), a disaffected, sometimes delinquent teen who shares her (largely absentee) father’s rebellious streak; Dean (Aiden Cook), a bullied 12-year-old whose mother is disabled; and Silvan (Halima Alter), a Kurdish refugee who strikes up a friendship with Darren (Miles Jupp), a mild-mannered housing officer. These subplots contribute to the demographic diversity that’s a standard element of modern-day revivals. But they also feel like an organic expansion of “The Full Monty,” shifting its focus from a singular group of six men to a more multifaceted portrait of a city badly in need of investment. The series opens with a montage of politicians promising that North Britain will soon be “leveling up,” a phrase refashioned into the title of the pilot. 

This update of “The Full Monty” shares the movie’s warm-hearted humanism. What it lacks is a hook as concise and compelling as “broke friends turn to stripping” — to be fair, a tough premise to top. Instead, this new version of “The Full Monty” has a looser concept that’s harder to pin down, but still easy to enjoy. Each 50 minute installment focuses on a different Sheffield resident dealing with life’s challenges in their own way; the closest thing the show has to a focal point is the Big Baps, a cozy café owned by Lomper’s husband Dennis (Paul Clayton). Naturally, the name conjures images of more than just bread rolls, though the double entendre is about as close as “The Full Monty” gets to the ribaldry of the film.

Like the better instances of the often-exhausting reboot wave — “Dead Ringers,” for example, or “Saved by the Bell” — “The Full Monty” can feel like a Trojan horse. In today’s landscape, it might be difficult to get the greenlight for a slice-of-life dramedy about underfunded schools, midlife marriage and the British immigration system, among other less-than-glitzy themes. Simply invoking a success as undeniable as the first “The Full Monty,” which was nominated for four Academy Awards here in the States and won one (for original musical/comedy score), can help get the show off the ground. But “The Full Monty” is far from a dutiful retread. It’s charming and deceptively humble, a far more effective tribute to a feel-good touchstone than simply running back the same beats.

All eight episodes of “The Full Monty” are now streaming on Hulu.