Of the recent spate of prestige TV about startup culture, WeCrashed is the most enjoyable. Apple+’s glorious new limited series tackles the story of Adam Neumann (Jared Leto), a self-identified “serial entrepreneur”. We also get the story and would-be actress Rebekah Neumann (Anne Hathaway). In fact, you’re probably already familiar with the Neumanns, who co-founded WeWork in 2010 and almost became one of the richest couples in the world…
As we meet Adam and Rebekah, it’s 2019, and the couple is at their least appealing. Early riser Rebekah meets with a contractor before heading into the office. Without a trace of irony, she stands in a gorgeously lit, open-concept kitchen so spacious. It’s the size of my entire condo. Forlorn, WeWork’s Chief Impact Officer insists the problem with the space is that it somehow isn’t open enough. In a different part of their New York mansion, Adam is awoken by members of his staff; his employees deliver the CEO’s morning bong directly to his bed. When the founders eventually breeze into work, their assistants scramble to play the duo’s entrance music, Katy Perry’s “Roar.” And the world-building is complete: Adam and Rebekah are the monarchs of a $47 Billion kingdom designed to look jolly and bright, but they’re the only ones enjoying it…
By contrast, Star’s The Dropout immediately humanizes its protagonist, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. When we meet the future fraudster, she’s a mere teen whose family is about to lose their home. Later, we see her survive a rape as a student at Stanford and watch as the much older Sunny Balwani grooms her into his romantic partner. Showtime’s Super Pumped documents Uber’s disregard for those impacted by their disruption of the Taxi Industry; however, the series also features Uber execs supporting an employee who’s in recovery from substance use disorder.
In addition, the writers include dialogue where racialized characters explain they found it hard to hail a taxi before Uber’s app. Basically, the creators of The Dropout and Super Pumped produced complex portraits of complex people. Those shows are good storytelling; they’re good TV, but they’re not a whole lot of fun. But WeCrashed’s exploration of the rise and fall of The Neumanns is pure schadenfreude. And that’s what many of us need right now.
WeCrashed operates in two time-lines. In 2019, we watch the Neumanns react as they lose a fortune when an IPO falls through and Adam is removed as WeWork’s CEO. In flashbacks to 2007, viewers see both the early days of Adam and Rebekah’s relationship (he stalks her). And it tells the story of how they founded the company (they invest money her dad gave them to buy a house).
The 00s timeline also treats viewers to epically cringe-worthy character development. Standout scenes include Rebekah – complete with bad Russian accent – starring in a Chekhov play staged in WeWork’s original offices. Anne Hathaway, herself an Oscar-winner, is so convincing as a bad actress I wanted to pelt her with Emmys. After all, any talented actor can give us a convincing performance. But for a superstar to act like a dud requires true discipline! The performance is so abysmal, even un-self-aware Rebekah accepts it’s time to quit acting.
While Annie gets to play a grating rich kid whose primal wound is she’ll never be her famous cousin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Adam is far more insidious. He’s the type of sociopath who’ll scam a neighbour out of his Chinese food to save $10 on dinner. As one VC tells him in the premiere, “I think you’re either going to be a billionaire, or you’re going to get arrested”. It’s a solid one-sentence summary of Adam’s personality. And with that line, showrunners Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello make it clear: this man is not some sort of loveable Don Draper anti-hero. You can hate him.
As cartoonishly insufferable as the Neumanns are, WeCrashed deftly illustrates their worst crime was creating a toxic workspace, then exporting it all over the world. Anyone with a cursory understanding of Late Capitalism knows the WeWork brand. A chain of co-working spaces that spread throughout the world pre-pandemic, WeWork promised to make work fun! Sure, you’d have to scramble for a hot desk each morning, but there was Happy Hour every evening! Add in a little Kombucha on tap, and the sheen of “wellness” made it possible for clients to believe the lie. That becoming a member at WeWork would somehow give them work/life balance. As 00s’ Rebekah puts it, they’re not selling offices, so much as “an experience.”
Fast forward a few years later, and the promise of WeWork’s innovative corporate culture has evaporated. WeWork’s own employees are contending with an epidemic of sexual harassment and inhumane work hours. When WeWork’s young staff members complain about the company’s conditions, Rebekah questions why they need to hire whiney millennials at all. A fellow exec responds to her. He says, “We can’t lose the millennials, because they work 80 hours a week for beer and free t-shirts”. This millennial reviewer can see the subtext here: WeWork grew on the backs of their young employees. The same young people who graduated into The Great Recession, desperate to get work experience by any means necessary. Millennial workers made the Neumanns rich. In exchange, the Neumanns threw them a silent disco…
After years of hearing older generations rant about spoiled millennial employees demanding foosball and ping pong tables in the office, WeCrashed exposes an important truth. Older execs like the Neumanns were often the ones peddling “fun” work conditions over “fair” work conditions. The free Kombucha was always meant as a distraction from the grind, not a perk.
The idea that work can or should be your whole life is one of Late Capitalism’s most toxic concepts, but WeCrashed deliciously skewers it. I can’t wait to watch the rest of this show….
- Release Date: 3/18/2022