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The Dropout Review: Amanda Seyfried's Theranos Drama Doesn't Capture the Chaos of the Elizabeth Holmes Scandal

How does a show like this get so boring?

Allison Picurro
Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout

Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout

Beth Dubber/Hulu

It's a great time to be a scammer. Or, well, maybe it's just a great time to be a person working in Hollywood who has an interest in scammers. Our collective cultural interest in charismatic weirdos who knowingly cheat people out of money has never been higher (Inventing Anna — following the infamous fake German heiress Anna Delvey — has been a hit for Netflix, for example), which means there has never been a better moment for The Dropout, Hulu's new limited series that digs into the rise and fall of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, to premiere. Of course we're curious about the kind of person who can pull off such a big-time scam, and about the motives and desires that got them there. There's so much to mine from these stories, and yet the most pervading question I had while watching The Dropout was, "How is this so boring?"

In The Dropout's defense, Holmes' case has been so highly publicized that telling a layered story about the woman behind the black turtlenecks and unblinking stares is an unenviable task. Even the most casual Holmes observer will come in already aware of some of the insane details: how Theranos was formed out of the bold, impossible vision to make blood testing simple and accessible; the way Holmes modeled herself after her idol Steve Jobs; the confounding, deep baritone she spoke in. To its credit, The Dropout pays close attention to realism, bringing many of Holmes' (played here by Amanda Seyfried) peculiarities to life. But a whole show can't be built around making viewers nod and say, "Yes, I remember that," and that's where The Dropout begins to fall apart. Prior knowledge can be a detriment in situations like this, and The Dropout is never quite able to capture the chaos of the scandal it's based on. How did a young college dropout with no experience in the medical field manage to rope so many people into believing in her vision? How did it spin out into such disarray? Don't rely on this show to answer those questions for you engagingly.

Created by New Girl's Elizabeth Meriwether, The Dropout is adapted from the 2019 podcast of the same name. The show gets off to an incredibly slow start, which can be attributed to its decision to spend the first episode showing, in exhaustive detail, how Holmes went from an awkward, idealistic student at Stanford University to an awkward, idealistic college dropout who decided to use her college tuition money to fund her start-up, which was built around a device she purported would make it possible to perform accurate blood tests with very small amounts of blood. Even with its meandering, it's clear what the first episode is trying to do by showing the ways a young Holmes was dismissed by people, including her mother (Elizabeth Marvel) and Laurie Metcalf's Phyllis Gardner, a Stanford professor Holmes tries to make an "as a fellow woman" appeal to in an early search for legitimacy. (Metcalf's affronted delivery of, "Don't ever… quote Yoda… to anybody, ever again," is a series highlight. Holmes famously didn't take her advice in real life or in the show; there are several shots of a Yoda quote printed on the wall in the Theranos lobby as the episodes proceed.)


The Dropout


  • Solid supporting performances
  • It picks up later in the season


  • Seyfried feels miscast
  • The action often drags
  • It never captures how insane the real scandal was

In fact, the greatest strength of the series lies in the performances from its supporting cast, many of whom are able to elevate the often-dragging material. Marvel is excellent as Holmes' demure, opportunistic mother, who at one point tearfully confesses to her daughter that she doesn't understand her, only to later jump fully on board as Holmes starts gaining notoriety, and Stephen Fry is a welcome addition as the desperately overworked chemist Ian Gibbons. Metcalf is disappointingly absent for the entire middle of the seven episodes screened for review, but every moment she's on screen is a treat: Gardner is one of the only people able to see right through Holmes from the beginning, and her constant eye-rolling at William H. Macy's Richard Fuisz (the guy who sued Theranos over, of all things, a patent) helps bring his frustrating scenery chewing down to earth.

As the show's would-be anchor, you wish for the same from Seyfried, but she unfortunately feels miscast here, looking entirely uneasy in almost every scene. She thrums with distractingly frenetic energy throughout, and you do get the sense that her Holmes is faking it until she makes it, but she never quite comes off as the confidently charismatic freak she needs to be in order to convincingly sell her take on this woman. Her voice also never quite reaches the exaggerated depth it needs to, and at many points she abandons any attempt to match the timbre entirely. The voice is such an integral part of Holmes' whole idiosyncratic deal that you have to wonder why no one advised Seyfried to perhaps consider dropping just one more octave. Seyfried gamely dons the red lipstick and sips from an ever-present plastic cup of green juice, and there are certainly moments of vulnerability in her performance, but it lacks the inherent oddness to be distinctly Holmesian. Even more than that, she never really clues us in to Holmes' motivation — is she doing this to prove people wrong? Because she actually cares about revolutionizing blood testing? Because she really just wants to morph into the second coming of Steve Jobs? We're left in the dark, just as the investors she strings along with empty promises are.

The series doesn't really start to pick up until Episode 7, when Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is brought in to begin investigating Theranos' inconsistencies. The seventh episode is actually pretty thrilling, showing how the lies and secrecy spearheaded by Holmes and her boyfriend/business partner Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) start to overwhelm them. They scramble to keep the story in, trying to intimidate anyone who they think might talk to Carreyrou, and ultimately wave him and his article off as "spiteful" and "sad." By that point, after the show dragged on and repeatedly reiterated the same points for the previous six episodes, it feels like too little too late. 

At its core, The Dropout has some interesting ideas — Holmes as a faux-feminist figure (is it girlboss to defraud people and potentially put many more in danger?), presenting the tech and pharmaceutical industries as corporate entities that don't care about the masses — but it never figures out how to present them intriguingly. When Holmes acknowledges at one point, "I know we made so many mistakes… We thought that we were doing the right thing," it just ends up feeling like a commentary on the series as a whole.

Premieres: Thursday, March 3 on Hulu (three episodes, then new episodes weekly)
Who's in it: Amanda Seyfried, Naveen Andrews, William H. Macy, Stephen Fry, Laurie Metcalf, Alan Ruck, Sam Waterston
Who's behind it: Elizabeth Meriwether (New Girl), Liz Hannah (The Post), Michael Showalter
For fans of: Girlbosses, scammers
How many episodes we watched: 7 of 10 (Hulu only sent 7 in advance)