Just because you know how the story ends doesn’t mean it isn’t fun watching it all go so horribly wrong.
That’s the premise of an entire burgeoning media genre, mostly produced by streaming platforms, chronicling the most salacious stories in technology, startups, and wealth gone awry. Hulu’s The Dropout, which focuses on the fall of Theranos, is the latest. There’s also Apple TV+’s upcoming WeCrashed series, based on the WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork podcast, and then there’s Showtime’s latest Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, starring the likes of Joseph Gordon -Levitt and Uma Thurman. And lest we forget when both Netflix and Hulu were released Fyre Fest Documentaries in the same week or when Netflix rushed possibility of a movie about the alleged husband-wife Bitcoin scrubber before her case is solved.
But when you’re told the same story over and over again without learning anything new, it loses its appeal. Even before Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of cheating investors in January we had little left to learn from her story, which has already spawned true crime podcasts, books and documentaries. We read Bad Blood, the Theranos narrative by journalist John Carreyrou, whose reporting directly contributed to Theranos’ fall from a $10 billion valuation to zero; we watched the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley; and we watched in real-time as Silicon Valley journalists live-tweeted their four-month trial that was so popular viewers had to wake up at 3am to ensure they get a seat.
But today, Hulu will release the first three episodes of The Dropout, and soon Apple TV+ will reveal its Bad Blood movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes.
These online streamers are churning out this content because they know we’ll be watching – we’re desperate and eager to understand how people can be so corrupted by the promise of money and fame that they sacrifice their morals.
Starring Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout is the first fictional retelling of the Holmes story we know so well by now: The youngest self-made billionaire vows to transform healthcare with breakthrough technology, only for the world to discover that the Woman who compared her to Steve Jobs peddled technology that never worked.
The series begins with fictional footage of Holmes in court, but aside from these brief asides, the story of Theranos is told in a simple, linear narrative. From this perspective, The Dropout feels like watching a car crash in slow motion. You can’t look away, but you don’t really enjoy the sight.
Seyfried’s take on Holmes is quite compelling, as she goes to mad lengths to convince investors, board members, Walgreens partners, and her devoted employees that she’s not full of shit (spoiler alert: she’s full of shit). We also have to watch as she falls for Sunny Balwani, her eventual COO, who is 18 years her senior, despite knowing Holmes would tearfully claim in court in 2021 that he routinely abused her throughout their 12-year relationship. “The Dropout” makes it clear that Balwani is not a hero in the Theranos story. But as she dives headlong into the role of CEO, the stomach-churning dynamic of her secret relationship with Balwani is glossed over in a way that’s hard to watch.
The show also recounts Holmes’ alleged rape when she was a Stanford freshman to contextualize the personal disasters that made her so keen on achieving fame and success. she remind in court last year: “I have decided that I will build a life by building this company.”
In early episodes, Stephen Fry’s performance as chief scientist Ian Gibbons is a highlight of the show. But for viewers who know Gibbons’ fate, each of his gleeful performances evokes a sense of foreboding. In 2013, Gibbons committed suicide just before he was due to testify in a court hearing about Theranos technology. His widow, Rochelle Gibbons, called that Holmes never got in touch after her husband’s death – instead, an office manager just asked her to return Ian’s laptop.
As we watch Rochelle learn of Ian’s death, Holmes no longer feels like a young woman overwhelmed. She’s a villain, but a complicated one. “The Dropout” still tries to humanize her, taking a bit of creative liberty to imagine personal aspects of her life that we’ll never know. This version of Holmes created by Hulu mourns Gibbon’s death, worries about the lack of viable technology in her company, and even questions her mother about what would happen if she left Theranos. But even in this slightly sympathetic look at Holmes, she is not a sympathetic character.
However, streamers know that viewers are captivated by unlikable central characters, which translates into views. For example, Netflix recently released a limited series Based on a true story about a young scammer. The Inventing Anna series tells the story of Anna Delvey, a notoriously intriguing criminal who is as enigmatic as Elizabeth Holmes – she is unsupported because her actions are just too heinous to justify; but you want to know more about her, so watch 7-10 hour episodes over the course of a weekend. Netflix viewers spent 196 million hours to watch “Inventing Anna” between February 14 and 20, making it Netflix’s most-watched English-language series over a one-week period. The show debuted on Friday, February 11 and racked up an additional 77 million views over the weekend of its release.
Unlike The Dropout, Inventing Anna frames the story of the fake German heiress through the careful reporting of a fictional journalist – the scams and tricks have already happened by the time the journalist convinces the victims of those scams to tell their side of the story . Like us, the fictional journalist is entranced by the question of how a young woman could almost cheat the Fortress Investment Group out of millions of dollars.
But the story of Elizabeth Holmes is ultimately more chilling than the misdeeds of Anna Delvey. Delvey — whose real last name is Sorokin — basically just stole money from obscenely rich people, which is of course morally despicable, but it doesn’t stoke quite the same anger as Elizabeth Holmes’ company, which provides bogus medical results to ordinary people, which could endanger their lives.
If “Inventing Anna” were oriented as a linear narrative, it would probably still be entertaining, as she doesn’t pose an ever-increasing threat to human health (…just their wealth). But “The Dropout” just isn’t a funny watch — it’s like yelling, “No, don’t do it!” to the horror movie character who decides to go into a spooky house, just this scene lasts eight episodes and is based on a true story.
Ever since films like The Social Network (2010) were released, in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was described as “tragic hero.” Now we view these stories from startup founders with legitimate skepticism, which makes sense at a time when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has popped up on primetime television and told us that Facebook puts profits ahead of the common good. Gone is the excitement when Apple debuted the first iPhone (a moment depicted in “The Dropout” when Hulu’s Holmes queues outside an Apple store to buy one). Now let’s look at Elon Musk complains “Billionaire taxes” on Twitter, and Jeff Bezos getting richer while Amazon works struggle to earn job protection.
If The Dropout had come out around 2018 or so, it might have been a compelling introduction to an important moment in Silicon Valley culture. But right now, it feels more like Hulu’s attempt to capitalize on our current cultural fascination with failed startups and scams.
Hulu’s Theranos docu-series ‘The Dropout’ is like watching a car crash in slow motion – TechCrunch Source link Hulu’s Theranos docu-series ‘The Dropout’ is like watching a car crash in slow motion – TechCrunch