On Thursday, I binged the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Dropout.
The Dropout is Hulu’s miniseries about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried), the enigmatic Stanford dropout who founded Theranos and became a billionaire before she turned 30. She promised that Theranos would revolutionize both the way that blood was tested and the world of health care in general. She was known for black turtlenecks, her deep (and possibly fake) voice, and her habit of not blinking. Of course, as common sense should have made obvious to just about anyone, it turned out that Elizabeth Holmes was lying about the blood testing machinery that her company was marketing. She and her business partner and former lover, Sunny Balwani (played, in The Dropout, by Lost‘s Naveen Andrews) were eventually charged with defrauding their investors. At trial, Holmes argues that her intentions were good and that she was trapped in an abusive relationship with Balwani. While Balwani’s trial is scheduled to being later this month, Elizabeth had already been convicted and currently await sentencing. Theranos, of course, no longer exists.
After the first three episodes, I would say that I’m cautiously optimistic. Seyfried and Andrews seem to be perfectly cast as Elizabeth and Sunny and the story itself is an interesting one. The miniseries format seems like a good one for director Michael Showalter’s trademark mix of dark comedy and drama. Much as with Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye, there were a few moments that felt a bit too cartoonish, most of which involved William H. Macy as Elizabeth’s former neighbor and eventual business rival but, for the most part, the first three episodes managed to establish and maintain a consistent tone. Before she lowers her voice and dons her black turtleneck, Elizabeth comes across as being socially awkward but likable. It’s only towards the end of the 3rd episode that we really start to see her as being the villainous figure that she eventually began. The first 3 episodes are like an origin story.
Of course, the fact that it took 3 hours to tell her origin story is one reason why I’m cautious in my optimism. Streaming services are currently full of miniseries that all take stories that should be interesting but then drag them out to such a length that it’s hard not to eventually lose interest. (If you need an example of what I’m talking about, go check out Netflix’s Inventing Anna.) The Dropout‘s first three episodes were well-done but it’s still hard not to feel that the story told in those three hours could have just as easily been told in 20 minutes, without denying the viewer anything that they needed to know to understand Elizabeth and Sunny. There are five more episodes to go. Can the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos remain interesting for 8 hours? I’m hopeful but I’m not totally sure.
With all that in mind, I’m recommending The Dropout, on the basis of the first three episodes. But remember …. I was originally pretty enthusiastic about Pam & Tommy as well.