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The Taming of the Shill: Hulu’s ‘The Dropout’ (REVIEW)

As streamers continue to battle with premium cable channels for the prestige TV crown, it’s only natural for there to be an onslaught on lesser programming. For every Yellowjackets, there is a Fuller House. Right now, the trendiest kind of TV show is a very specific kind; eight to ten-episode miniseries that follows the unbelievable but true story of an unlikeable protagonist (see: Inventing Anna, The Thing About Pam, Joe Vs. Carole). Bonus points if you can corral a cast of recognizable faces and have the budget for a good needle drop here and there. By this metric, Hulu’s The Dropout has all of the elements of a hit prestige miniseries. The question is, does it even need to be one in the first place?

Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout (COURTESY: Hulu)

The Dropout chronicles the trajectory of the one girlboss to rule them all – Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried). Holmes, who is perhaps more well-known for her baritone voice, unfortunate hair, and commitment to dressing like her idol, Steve Jobs, is now the founder and CEO of now-defunct Theranos. This health technology company claimed to be prepared to revolutionize healthcare through blood testing. With her boyfriend and business partner Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), Holmes defraud investors and abuse staff as they continue to peddle their malfunctioning company to the masses. Of course, anyone who’s watched the news in recent years knows how this story of a scammer ends—and even if they don’t, they can connect the dots pretty quickly using the video camera footage of Elizabeth’s deposition inter-spliced with the Theranos chronicles.

Of all of the “scammer TV” that’s been churned out the past few months, nothing feels as overwrought as the story of Elizabeth Holmes. In the past five years, there’s been a book, podcast, two documentaries, and an Adam McKay movie starring Jennifer Lawrence optioned—all retelling the story of the failed entrepreneur. In The Dropout, the first dramatized retelling of the Theranos tale, Holmes is given room to breathe. Not as a villainous “girlboss” but as yet another anti-hero in the world of prestige TV. While there are moments in the series’s three-episode premiere that tiptoe towards the greatness of The Social Network, most of The Dropout is reminiscent of Holmes herself: a disappointing regurgitation of something greater.

If Holmes herself was an interesting person who sought out entrepreneurship as a way to genuinely help people, perhaps her story would be one worth telling over and over. Not even Seyfried’s incredibly committed performance (her transformation into Holmes’s signature voice is particularly impressive) makes the retelling of Holmes’s story worth it. No matter how many sad stories are shared from Holmes’s childhood, none make me want to empathize with and learn more about her and her con. Sometimes, The Dropout feels more like The Taming of the Shill than the cautionary tale it could, at the very least, try to be. Various tonal shifts between tense drama and half-baked humor make it difficult to gauge what the point is.

Naveen Andrews as Sunny Balwani and Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout (COURTESY: Hulu)

At the very least, The Dropout is the final puzzle piece of the Elizabeth Holmes-Theranos Cinematic Universe. But unless there’s something new to say, another chronicle about a scammer born with a silver spoon in their mouth is simply another miniseries that will be lost to time, destined to languish in the depths of whichever streamer spat it out.

Ultimately, this is upsetting.

The show has some really stellar moments snuck in—Seyfried’s committed and chameleon-like performance, Jay Rosan (Alan Ruck) vibing in the car to Katy Perry, and the always welcome appearance of Bill Irwin—that feels wasted. It feels like the show’s creators forgot to ask the most important scientific question—just because you can, does it mean that you should?

Rating: 6/10

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