'The Dropout': Amanda Seyfried stars as disgraced billionaire in cautionary tale

·4-min read
Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)
Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)

The Dropout, based on an ABC News podcast, will be regarded by many as a companion piece to Dopesick in the coming months.

Following the meteoric rise of Elizabeth Holmes, America’s youngest self-made billionaire, this densely written and cleverly constructed drama will debut on Disney+, on 3 March. In so doing, it will position itself alongside the Michael Keaton headliner, which has been lauded by many as a drama of substance on America’s escalating opioid epidemic.

However, with the trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes barely out of print, while matters of global significance in Europe threaten to overshadow any dramatisation, is another series on medical misinformation really worth investing in?

Watch a trailer for The Dropout

Created by Elizabeth Meriweather, who is best known for New Girl, The Dropout feels like a cautionary tale aimed at over-achievers. It also has lots to say about those invested in fallacies like the American Dream, where perseverance, dedication and self-belief are held in higher regard than common sense.

In a performance which will be a revelation to many, Amanda Seyfried plays the title role of one woman army Elizabeth Holmes. A role which charts her ascension from teenage wunderkind to millennial billionaire in under ten years.

Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in March 2022

There is such a single-minded determination behind this portrayal that will win audiences over quickly. Through a combination of unwavering self-belief and inherent aptitude for self-promotion, she converts academics to her cause easily.

Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)
Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)

Over the course of that first hour Seyfried also deals with derision from college contemporaries alongside awed acceptance from elsewhere, defining Elizabeth Holmes for the drama which follows. Learning languages whilst blagging tenured academics and medical specialists into submission, she is the rock upon which The Dropout is built.

In forging a business from promises rather than tangible science and established facts, this series gains momentum as lies become currency in an ever increasing game of Chinese whispers. As the stakes increase and her position becomes ever more precarious, Seyfried walks a delicate line between emotional implosion and business fraud. Elsewhere, The Dropout benefits from having an eclectic ensemble cast of genuine quality, who succeed in grounding her more questionable choices.

Stephen Fry as Ian Gibbons in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)
Stephen Fry as Ian Gibbons in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)

Alongside Bill Irwin as Channing Robertson and William H. Macy as Richard Fuisz, there are also curveballs including Laurie Metcalf and Stephen Fry. As Phyllis Gardner and Ian Gibbons respectively, they play a crucial part in garnering credibility for the material as a whole. Although none of these revered actors play a large part, it is their involvement that gives The Dropout its essential authenticity.

Read more: Sundance hit to premiere on Disney+

That being said, although Stephen Fry is rarely far away from playing himself, in the role of Ian Gibbons he leans into his innate intelligence, which works in perfect opposition to Seyfried throughout their scenes together.

The Dropout -- “Iron Sisters” - Episode 106 -- Fresh out of college and newly employed by Theranos, Tyler Schultz and Erika Cheung discover shocking truths about Elizabeth and the company. Richard and Phyllis work with John Carreyrou to build a case against Elizabeth. Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf) and Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy), shown. (Photo by: Beth Dubber/Hulu)
Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf) and Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy) (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)

Elsewhere, dramatic heavy weights like William H. Macy work hard to deliver a nuanced character arc peppered with pathos and dramatic impact. However, of those who get more time on the playing field, it is Naveen Andrews’ Sunny Balwani and Michael Ironside’s investor Don Lucas who deserve the most plaudits.

As confidant, counsellor and love interest to Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny suffers most as events begin spiralling out of control. Likewise, Ironside’s Don Lucas endures a crisis of confidence alongside personal disappointments as her web of lies begins to unravel. This is where The Dropout turns from cautionary tale into allegorical fable, as ethical and moral boundaries are crossed in her scrabble for self-preservation.

The Dropout -- “Heroes” - Episode 107 -- Under intense scrutiny from the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth and Sunny double down on defense. Tyler and Erika face a difficult choice. Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) and Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried), shown. (Photo by: Beth Dubber/Hulu)
Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews) and Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) in The Dropout (Disney+/Beth Dubber/Hulu)

What will keep audiences hooked at this point will be the same thing that has people slowing down at traffic accidents. The public loves to watch others fail, almost as much as they want them to succeed.

It is the basis of tabloid journalism in certain countries, plus jealousy and hubris are a potent concoction when it comes to keeping others in check. That is why shows like Dopesick and The Dropout will always have an audience, because nothing is more fascinating than the foibles of human behaviour.

With its focus on the potential eradication of high cost health care in America, where being sick can bankrupt the average person, The Dropout is a contentious topic worthy of exploration.

SQUAWK BOX -- Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos CEO and the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, in an interview on September 29, 2015 -- (Photo by: David Orrell/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos CEO and the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, in an interview on September 29, 2015 (David Orrell/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Something that Hulu has successfully dramatised in a series worth every moment audiences can offer it. At its best entertainment should educate and enlighten in equal measure, irrespective of ratings or the rationale of networks.

An adage that someone somewhere must have taken to heart when it came to commissioning this show.

The Dropout will premiere on Star on Disney+ with three episodes, with new episodes landing weekly.

Watch: The fall of Elizabeth Holmes

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