By Chris Byrd | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — In January, Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the now-defunct biotech company Theranos, was found guilty of defrauding her corporation’s investors. Her conviction marked the culmination of a spectacular fall from grace for the erstwhile billionaire.
The ambition, greed and deception that lay behind the 38-year-old’s apparent success are chronicled in “The Dropout.” The first three episodes of this weak dramatization, which is based on the ABC News-produced podcast of the same name, are available on Hulu. The remaining five installments will be released each Thursday through April 7.
Elizabeth Meriwether (Fox’s “New Girl”) created and wrote the show, which stars Amanda Seyfried as Holmes. Meriwether’s scripts include a considerable amount of earthy language as well as references to rape and birth control, making the program acceptable for adults only.
The linear plot begins with Holmes as a high school student. Shocked by the sudden ruin of her father, Chris (Michel Gill), an executive with the notorious Enron energy company, she becomes determined to avoid a similar fate.
In the lead-up to her freshman year at Stanford, Holmes attends its Chinese language immersion program in Beijing where she meets 37-year-old Pakistani millionaire Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews). He would later become Holmes’ boyfriend as well as Theranos’ CEO.
Holmes launches her new California-based firm to market a supposed breakthrough in health care: a medical test conducted without needles and requiring only a minimal amount of blood. Despite mandating that their engineers work round the clock, however, Holmes and Balwani fail to develop a reliable prototype.
That doesn’t prevent Holmes from convincing Silicon Valley investors, including Don Lucas (Michael Ironside), to back her enterprise, though. Only years later would things begin to unravel.
Even as it tells a fact-based story, “The Dropout” strains credibility. In part, that’s due to the misguided decision to ask Seyfried — herself only two years Holmes’ junior — to play a teenager and college student.
But Seyfried also portrays Holmes as possessing a manufactured personality, one that obliges her, at times, to rehearse in the mirror what she’s going to say. Viewers will be left to wonder whether such an insecure character would have had the confidence or charisma needed to woo investors.
Seyfried and Andrews, moreover, lack alchemy.
One of the resources squandered here is a fine cast, including the ever-adept William H. Macy and the wonderfully idiosyncratic Mary Lynn Rajskub. Laurie Metcalf also shines, making the most of her brief turn as Stanford medical professor Phyllis Gardner.
The tale of Holmes’ rise and fall certainly has the potential to engage viewers. As recounted here, however, it falls well short of doing so.
Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.