This article contains a reference to suicide.

Right now, we’re living in a golden (micro) age of prestige TV adaptations depicting notable startup failures. In the first half of 2022 alone, we’re getting shows about the rise and fall of Uber, Theranos and WeWork all fronted by A-list talent. It’s a sign of how far the public’s tastes have changed that the travails of a tech, well, “tech” company is now mainstream entertainment.

Yesterday, I binge-watched seven of the eight episodes of Hulu / Star’s fans will find much to love about the series dark humor, especially the all-out fourth episode, which borrows Alan Ruck to guest as Walgreens’ executive Dr. Jay Rosan. In other places, however, the satire of both Silicon Valley and investment culture in general is far more subtle. Only in this series can two characters declare their love for each other while creating a pact for mutually-assured blackmail at the same time.

There is, rather obviously, a gendered element to the endless speculation and hand-wringing about Holmes’ motives and actions. The press never seems to need to psychoanalyze why Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are dick-wagging with their competing space projects. Merriweather chooses to highlight this disparity, mostly through the voice of Laurie Metcalf’s Dr. Phyllis Gardner – the Stanford professor who initially told Holmes that her ideas couldn’t work. She pops up several times in the show to offer meta-commentary on what we’re watching.

One of the things the show serves to highlight is how much of an easy ride Theranos got from investors and the press. Despite refusing to justify any element of its technology, it took far too long for regulators and officials to really interrogate what was going on here. I mean, in 2015, Holmes was appointed to the board of fellows at Harvard Medical School! The scale of the fraud, the scale of the lie, became so great that most people just felt that they had to believe it.

It’s funny, I’m reminded of a story I wrote for Engadget back in 2016 which just summed up John Carreyou’s Wall Street Journal reporting. But despite just citing and quoting Carreyou’s work, I was on the receiving end of a 21-email nastygram from Theranos’ then-PR representatives. The company’s image management team jumped hard on any and all criticism. When Holmes and Balwani were charged by the SEC, I emailed that same PR person to ask if they had any comment on their previous statements. It was the most delicious “no comment” I have ever received.

A common complaint of Peak TV is that most shows could be done and dusted in a third of the time actually allowed. Despite watching almost all of The Dropout over a single day, I actually felt like the show could have been longer. There’s plenty that, by necessity, has had to be cut, glossed and generally trimmed to get things down to a tight eight hours. I could easily have watched another couple hours with more context and detail, but then I’ll admit, I am a nerd. You won’t be able to, however, since Hulu is releasing the first three episodes on March 3rd and then the rest on subsequent Fridays through the start of April. That’s a smart decision, since the first three are more or less designed as a cohesive whole, while subsequent episodes can be enjoyed individually.

Fundamentally, The Dropout is well worth your time, and Amanda Seyfried offers some truly stellar work bringing the duality of Holmes to life.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). Wikipedia maintains a list of crisis lines for people outside of those countries.