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Where the Magic Happens 

Finding Magic Mike's unexpected enchantments

click to enlarge Give us "Left my mask in the car," but make it sexy.

Finding Magic Mike

Give us "Left my mask in the car," but make it sexy.

If you've somehow missed out on the Steven Soderbergh-Channing Tatum phenomenon that started as a surprisingly charming movie about a young man's entry into the world of male strippers and has since enlarged into live performances showcasing humor, desire and sex-positivity via extremely athletic troupes of dancing dudes, well, now you're ready for me to tell you why you should immediately watch Finding Magic Mike on HBOMax.

I'd sat down to brush the cat (not a euphemism) and was looking for something to stream while the Furminator did its work, and that is how I discovered Finding Magic Mike, a reality show which brings together 50 guys vying to join Magic Mike Live, "a first class entertainment experience" based on the hit films Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL, and ultimately win $100,000.

Now, I love dancing, both the getting on of my own groove and the watching of talented performers. I particularly enjoy observing the male body transform into art via choreography, so when HBO Max suggested I watch this new "unscripted competition series" in the ever-expanding Magic Mike franchise — Magic Mike's Last Dance has been announced as the third film installment to come — of course, I said, yes. Despite never having watched a reality show before, yes. Very much yes. I anticipated sexy musical numbers and glistening pecs, but the open-heartedness of the series caught me off guard.

The pilot debuts with 50 men whose audition tapes have landed them an initial spot but the group is quickly whittled down to 25, then 10, all of which happens quickly, fortunately, because who can keep track of 25 men? From the 10, two will ultimately be chosen to join a performance with the professional Mikes in the live show, with one winner taking home that sweet cash prize. But these guys, with one notable exception, are not coming in all cocky ready to grind on whatever prop is thrust at them. These are men seeking to find and tap into their individual "inner magic." Each episode has a theme: confidence, attractiveness, charisma, connection, etc. Three coaches — Alex Rodrigo, who played Tito in the films, and choreographers Alison Faulk and Luke Broadlick — mentor and instruct the aspiring Mikes each week. They become invested in their protegees quickly, as do we, with the goal of helping all these guys connect with who they are and what they can do.

What they are physically capable of turns out to be quite a lot: complex dance routines, aerial feats and the ability to give a lady a proper lap dance. Most of which is a blast to watch (the lap dance scenes lacked the thrill of the intricately choreographed numbers for this viewer) but the hook is not in how much bod the boys expose, it's in how much emotion they share. Bonded by their journey, the men open up about their insecurities to each other, share stories of being bullied at school, of being afraid of disappointing their families. They range in age from mid-20s to early 40s and in body type from super ripped to having self-described "dad bods." The group is also ethnically diverse and includes some fluidity in sexual orientation, all of which feels spot on for the times and all of which is 100 percent accepted, which does feel magical. Men who want to be better men would do well to watch this show.

OK, but what about the dancing? As the episodes advance, so do the performance requirements. The Mike hopefuls go from learning a few golden standards — the "dolphin" and "Old Faithful" — to precisely detailed simulated sex with a partner as water rains down from above. After each performance, those who didn't quite hit the necessary notes are released from the show amid emotional farewells (and with a consolation Magic Mike-branded jacket). Helping judge along the way are a plethora of riotous guest stars including Nikki Glaser, Whitney Cummings, Nicole Scherzinger, Amanda Seaes and Robin Thede. Ultimately the show's sincerity shines brightest but that doesn't make it any less sexy — in fact, it's a real turn-on watching the magic bloom. TVMA. 45M. HBO MAX.

Jennifer Savage (she/her) has a respectable day job and writes about her life at www.outonthepeninsula.com.

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For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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Jennifer Savage

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