Amanda Seyfried Delivers a Career-Best Performance in Hulu’s Theranos Series ‘The Dropout’
And yes, she does "the voice."
After two podcasts, two books, two documentaries, an upcoming feature film, and countless think-pieces, we still can’t get enough of Theranos founder and notorious scammer Elizabeth Holmes. The larger-than-life tale of a Stanford dropout who faked her way to running a multi-billion dollar company based on bogus blood testing tech would strain credulity if she were fictional. And yet, the more we learn about the inner workings of Theranos, the more inscrutable Holmes becomes. Who is the woman behind the wild eyes, the manufactured voice, and the black turtleneck? And what does it say about Silicon Valley and America’s wealthiest power players that they were able to be conned by the relentless confidence and ambition of a pretty white woman?
Enter Hulu’s limited series The Dropout, written by New Girl creator Liz Meriwether and directed (mostly) by Michael Showalter (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), which tries and mostly succeeds in unraveling the mystery of Elizabeth Holmes. The darkly comedic series follows Holmes from ambitious high school student through Stanford and the rise and fall of Theranos. Holmes is played by Amanda Seyfried (Mank, Mamma Mia!) an inspired casting choice that sees the actress delivering a career-best performance.
The Dropout wisely straddles the line between satirizing and villainizing Holmes completely, offering a nuanced yet unflinching look at how Holmes’s relentless optimism and total belief in her mission convinced Stanford professors, scientists, and billionaire donors to follow her. And it is this same single-minded ambition and unwavering commitment that curdles into toxic cruelty, paranoia, and fraud.
Seyfried is backed by a murderer’s row of actors, with William H. Macy, Stephen Fry, Laurie Metcalf, and Alan Ruck as Holmes’s supporters and detractors. Naveen Andrews (Lost) plays Sunny Balwani, Holmes’s older, controlling boyfriend (and alleged abuser) who ends up running the company alongside her. It’s Balwani who comes closest to piercing Holmes’s veil as her confidante and partner in crime. “I don’t feel things the way that other people feel things,” she confesses to Balwani. It’s not the first clue that Holmes herself is a sociopath, or at the very least missing any kind of moral compass.
The Dropout works best when it takes on the fever dream of Silicon Valley, which proves irresistible for America’s older white wealthy men looking for the next gold rush. Episode 4, “Old White Men” finds the CEOs of Walgreens (led by Alan Ruck) seduced by the sleek luxury and empty buzzwords of the millionaire tech bros. And Holmes is the perfect trap—young, eager, flattering, and resolutely confident with nothing but green juice and aphorisms to back up her spiel. She trades in the tics and idiosyncrasies of her fellow tech billionaires, playing at being a genius while lacking any scientific understanding of the product she so zealously pushes.
Despite the stacked cast, this is Seyfried’s show to carry, and she does it brilliantly. As the pressure increases and Theranos grows, she adopts what would become Holmes’s signature style: the black turtlenecks, the low voice, the intense eyes. But she does so without ever dipping into caricature and without losing any shades or nuance of the character. Seyfried brings a barely hinged intensity to her performance of a tightly wound woman drowning in denial.
We’re heading into a season of peak scammer television, with Inventing Anna, Super Pumped, and WeCrashed. Do yourself a favor and don’t let The Dropout get lost in the shuffle. Unlike Theranos, this smart, fast-paced series is the real deal.
The Dropout is currently streaming the first two episodes on Hulu.
(image: Beth Dubber/Hulu)
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