'The Dropout': Great cast, fine performances
SERIES "The Dropout"
WHERE Streaming on Hulu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT This adaptation of the 2019 ABC News podcast of the same name charts the dramatic real-world rise and fall of Stanford dropout and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) and her boyfriend, Sunny Balwani ("Lost's" Naveen Andrews). Founded by Holmes in 2003 when she was 19, Theranos promised a groundbreaking technology that would run dozens of tests on a single drop of blood. She then raised $700 million, but the only problem was that the device was a fraud, and so was Holmes. (She was found guilty on four charges in January; Balwani is awaiting trial.)
In this seven-parter created by Elizabeth Meriwether ("New Girl"), Holmes and her science team, led by Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry), quickly learn that the technology is flawed, perhaps fatally so, but she launches a money chase anyway. She also enlists Stanford chemical engineer Channing Robertson (Bill Irwin) who attracts other academic stars, like Rakesh Madhava (Utkarsh Ambudkar, aka rapper UTK the INC). That big money soon follows, and the big names too, including former Secretary of State George Shultz (Sam Waterston), who joins the Theranos board. Holmes and Balwani scramble to keep inquisitive investors at bay, but Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is not so easily put off.
MY SAY Seyfried recently told The Hollywood Reporter that she wanted to do this because "I learned nothing" about Holmes from the ABC News podcast or Alex Gibney's 2019 Theranos documentary, "The Inventor."
"It’s crazy that she can still be such an enigma."
Seyfried's right, but there's always the possibility that Holmes was an enigma to herself, and this series makes that case too. It begins with a young and privileged woman — a teenager, really — who's in a hurry to get somewhere but has only the vaguest idea of where "somewhere" is. She drops out of school, heads to Silicon Valley where all fast tracks seem to end up, with a Svengali (Sunny) to help lead the way. Holmes does, in fact, have one big idea yet no interest in the science behind it and even less interest in blood. (Hers, by the way, runs cold.)
Meanwhile, Holmes gropes her way forward, searching for an identity, sartorial style (those famous black pantsuits) and voice (the husky one) which will serve as a proxy for the vacuum within. She knows instinctively that she can con foolish old men. Other women are not quite so easy.
In one of many fine performances here that flash by but have sticking power nonetheless, a Stanford professor played by Laurie Metcalf explains that "as a woman you don't get to skip any steps. You have to do so much work that you take away all their excuses because if you get anything wrong they'll be happy to destroy you."
"They" refers to the male hierarchy of the science establishment, and guess what kind of ears this advice falls upon?
As part of that long tradition of movies ("The Hudsucker Proxy '') and TV shows (''Silicon Valley") about corporate moonshine, "The Dropout '' does add something new and better still, someone new. Seyfried is so good here that you may find yourself hoping for a different outcome.
Instead, we're all left with that riddle wrapped in an enigma, or to borrow the famous line, a shape without form and shade without color. To borrow that other line, her Holmes is just another empty suit.
BOTTOM LINE Great cast, fine performances, consistently entertaining.