In the age of binge-watching, it can be tough to glom onto shows released traditionally, one episode at a time over the span of weeks. While I’m no psychologist, there’s something about binge-watching that scratches an itch yet to be named; completing a season in one or two sittings feels satisfactory. I’m sure that in the coming years, studies will be written about this strange feeling, and how this new way of consuming serialized stories has duped our brains into thinking finishing a season of a sitcom is akin to crossing a chore off of our to-do list.
For those shows that do choose a traditional release, the stakes seem higher. How do you entice an audience to return every week? More importantly, how do you convince an audience that appointment TV is worth it when the story is one where we already know the ending — or, at the very least, where we can find the ending with a quick Google search?
Tuning in week after week, you can feel Hulu’s The Dropout chugging along, one chug at a time . Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) is gaining new ground in the fight to have her machines in drug stores nationwide. There’s just one small catch: her technology is faulty. Of course, that doesn’t stop Elizabeth, and she and her business partner/secret boyfriend Sunny (Naveen Andrews) pivot to a new business strategy, embracing the fame and the buzz around Theranos. But how does their product work, you ask? That information is on a strict need-to-know basis. Ask too many questions or probe too deep, and you might get hit with a lawsuit. As Elizabeth proclaims, “This is war.”
As the series’ fifth episode, ‘Flower of Life,’ comes to an end, new blood replaces former employees who have seen the light. The old employees hiss at the new ones to get out before it’s too late. Elizabeth rallies her newest disciples in a way that feels more Koresh than Zuckerberg. This sounds like it could be intriguing, right?
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
Perhaps the thrills of startup culture are simply lost on me, but the presentation of this sea change is dull. And more than just dull: The Dropout is missing elements that could make the series truly thrilling. Instead, it feels rote; it checks the boxes required for the creation of yet another scammer saga. This isn’t to say that there aren’t elements that hint at potential greatness. The never-ending parade of beloved character actors turning in committed performances keeps me on my toes each episode (which Emmy winner will have a three-minute scene this week?), Amanda Seyfried’s impossibly awkward dancing lends some genuine humor, the attempts at building tension that sometimes work — they’re all elements I wish were stronger pillars in the show’s structure.
Humor, in particular, is sorely lacking from what could be a more incisive and satirical story about something so sinister. It isn’t that all stories with themes as dark as Theranos’ should rely on humor to save them from becoming cautionary tales. But, when there’s no humor to buoy nonstop lies and deceit, everything comes off one-note.
I would love the show’s final two episodes to conclude with some real pathos for Elizabeth. Or perhaps a final comedic note to end the show, holding a mirror up to the audience in a way that isn’t preachy (no pages from the book of Adam McKay, please). At the very least, doing so would give a rather toothless show the bite it deserves.
“Not losing steam, but not gaining any traction, either”
Dir: Michael Showalter, Francesca Gregorini, Erica Watson
Prod: Amanda Seyfried, Hilary Bettis, Megan Mascena
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Naveen Andrews
Release Date: 2022
Available on: Hulu