The story of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes captured a moment in Silicon Valley. The famed inventor/fraud swindled millions of dollars from many of the most famous investors in the world. She pulled the wool over the eyes of the powerful in the pursuit of medical progress. Good intentions do not excuse fraudulent behavior, but they make for a didactic tale of greed and excess gone wrong. After John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood brought Holmes’ story to the mainstream, many projects landed in Hollywood. The first fictionalized account of Holmes’ rise and fall arrives on Hulu, and The Dropout does not disappoint. Building on a brilliant performance from Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout skewers Silicon Valley, disruptor culture, and our willingness to believe in something too good to be true.
Given that Holmes is only in her late thirties today, it is unsurprising that The Dropout picks up early in her life. Using the ABC Podcast of the same name as its source material, The Dropout follows a young teenager who grows into Silicon Valley’s most infamous swindler. The first episode observes Holmes as a teenager, fueled for success by her parents (Michel Gill & Elizabeth Marvel). While traveling abroad, she meets her future partner Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews). At Stanford, she impresses faculty and classmates so much that she decides to drop out and start Theranos. She quickly recruits a remarkable team (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Stephen Fry, James Hiroyuki Liao) of technicians and classmates to build a disruptor to the medical industry. Running out of money and credibility, Holmes lies to a group of venture capitalists. Soon, the lie becomes more extensive than she ever anticipated.
Leading a stellar ensemble, Seyfried proves her Oscar nomination for Mank was no fluke. Seyfried nails the strange mannerisms that have made Holmes something of a celebrity. Adopting the posture and visuals of Steve Jobs, Holmes became as known for eccentricities as her inventions. Seyfried captures that charisma on-screen while never resorting to drastic prosthetics or wigs.
Seyfried’s lone transformation comes through her vocal performance. Surprisingly, Seyfried draws out the deeper tone of Holmes’ curious vocal cadence. Even in the moments where Seyfried lessens her strict vocals or drops the public persona we’ve grown to associate with Holmes, she brings a stellar interpretation of the woman to life. Seyfried creates a woman worthy of our empathy, a necessity when observing someone known for stealing millions of dollars.
The ensemble also features many great character actors, each one expertly deployed. Laurie Metcalf gets a showy role as one of Holmes’ earliest doubters. Her verbal spats with Seyfried allow Metcalf to unleash her quick wit and establish her role as a pragmatist who sees through the lies. Macy physically transforms, disappearing into his role as a seedy investor with a chip on his shoulder. Marvel provides some much-needed motivation to understand why Holmes would begin her series of lies. Andrews leans into the eccentricity of Balwani and, like Seyfried, makes him charming enough to help the audience understand the strange attraction between the two swindlers.
With podcasts becoming a new source for adaptation, it is unsurprising that there’s plenty of material to work from. Elizabeth Merriweather serves as the creator and primary writer for the series, and the television vet expertly pitches the tone. As the creator of New Girl, Bless This Mess, and Single Parents, Merriweather knows how to harvest meaningful relationships through comedic storytelling. While The Dropout features plenty of dramatic moments, the best sequences bring an electric, seat-of-its-pants vibe to the episodes.
As the season progresses, Holmes’ personal and professional lives begin to intersect. As they do, her lies become more personal and more guarded. They begin to pile up, creating a symbolic Jenga-tower that spells disaster for Theranos, its investors, and for Holmes as a businesswoman. Merriweather builds this house of cards through narrative twists, which creates tension. Perhaps the only issue facing the series is the episode count, with 8 episodes feeling a little too long. This lets the air out of the balloon on several occasions, ensuring the audience that this will not be the time that Holmes is finally busted.
Beneath the majority of the series is a crackling score from Anne Nikitin. The synth-based score recalls Reznor & Ross’ work on The Social Network but differentiates itself with little flourishes. Whether one inspired the other or not, the music hammers home the technology-focused role that Theranos would play. Recalling this feeling helps remind the audience how we should view Holmes’ goal as a disruptor, not a savior.
The latest vision of swindler culture results in one of the most thorough explorations of greed in the 21st Century. The story of Elizabeth Holmes remains as intriguing as ever, and The Dropout will bring even more eyes to her case. Seyfried’s excellence drives much of the story, but the considerable talent on both sides of the camera makes it one of 2022’s can’t miss series.