Turtleneck Power: Our Review of ‘The Dropout’

Posted in Disney +, TV, What's Streaming? by - March 13, 2022
Turtleneck Power: Our Review of ‘The Dropout’

Landing on Disney+  is another medical-based, Hulu-produced, dramatic series (after the excellent Dopesick ended last month) about the scandal surrounding would-be ingenue Elizabeth Holmes, The Dropout. Staring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes and a supporting cast of many familiar faces, the 8 episode series (we were given access to 7 of those episodes for the purposes of this review) unspool every Thursday after the first 3 episode drop this week.

Determined to make her mark in the medical world and invent something which would make her millions of dollars, the ultra driven and determined, the series starts with Holmes already focused as an 18 year old, taking extra credit courses before even starting at Stanford University. its through an exchange program/educational retreat she meets the much her senior Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), who she grows an intense bond with despite their age discrepancy, binding over their shared ambitions and equally shared social awkwardness. As a University freshman, Holmes impresses Professor Channing Robertson (Bill Irwin) enough to be allowed into his senior project study lab.

After coming up with her first idea, a medical patch, that is promptly shut down, Holmes decides to dropout out of Stanford to develop her second idea- a method to run blood testing at home and have accurate results within hour, only from a single pin prick. Having to gain funding to drive her team’s research, Holmes sets out to impress others in her field as well and corporate investment groups. But when a key demonstration of the product is jeopardized because the machine malfunctions, Holmes and her teams makes the dangerous decision to falsify the test and its results to impress the investors. Which leads them straight down the slippery slope her own implosion.

Featuring supporting turns from nearly unrecognizable William H. Macy, Stephen Fry, Anne Archer, Sam Waterston, Uktarsh Ambudkar, Michaela Watkins, Laurie Metcalf and Michael Ironside to name just a few, The Dropout is certainly not lacking any star power. And for the most part, the cast delivers in spades, with Macy, Watkins, Fry and Andrews being real standouts. The decision to have the series start with Holmes as an 18 year old and have the 37 year old Seyfried play her throughout may be brought in question though as she never looks/feels the part agewise until about the 4th episode. A small quibble for sure as others have played well below their ages many times before in Hollywood- but in this case its quite noticeable.

But Seyfried also brings and manic energy to Holmes that is both awkward and captivating. Her version of Holmes is so socially inept that she has to constantly rehearse lines for regular conversation and her business style is one that is basically Steve Jobs the female version, Holmes herself being an ultimate Apple fangirl, even being one of the first people in line for the first I-Phone on its initial launch. Its a balls out performance that just gets more unhinged as the series progresses. Meanwhile, Andrews plays Balwani as a volcano of rage, desperate to remain calm on the outside while his rage bubbles just below the surface and can erupt at any second. They are 2 people who should never have been together, either romantically or professionally, and it ultimately shows as things unravel fairly soon afterwards.

Showrunner/Director Michael Showalter is known more for his comedic chops, being one of the creators of the Wet Hot American Summer series, Stella,  and Children’s Hospital, but showed that he could handle flawed people and autobiographical fare adeptly with last year’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye. He proves again that he knows how to adapt the content to awkward characters in real life with The Dropout, as the series caries its own unique energy and isn’t afraid to get as awkward in parts as its main character. There are times of disjointedness and bizarre aspects that it helps the audience try to get in the to mindset of the disturbed Holmes much better.

Having seen 7 of the 8 episodes, just missing the ultimate fall of Holmes and her company Thereanos into the ashes and millions and millions of dollars defrauded from all their investors, I can say that I’m truly invested in seeing the finale and how it unfolds. And ultimately over the course of a limited series, having people anxiously awaiting the next episode ‘drop’ is the best compliment a series can get.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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