Regular Ars readers have no doubt been following our ongoing coverage of the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial. The disgraced Theranos founder’s meteoric rise and equally rapid fall has already been the subject of a 2018 nonfiction book and the HBO documentary feature, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. Now Hulu has released the official trailer for The Dropout, the streaming platform’s new original limited series starring Amanda Seyfried as Holmes. (Kate McKinnon was originally slated to star but left the production early on for undisclosed reasons.)
It’s certainly one hell of a story. Holmes famously dropped out of Stanford (hence the series title) to found Theranos in 2003. The company claimed its technology was going to revolutionize medical diagnostic testing by reducing the amount of blood required for analysis down to a single finger prick. Based on that potential promise, Theranos raised over $900 million from investors, most of whom had no experience in biomedical startups. Forbes magazine named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in the US in 2015, valuing Theranos at $9 billion.
As Ars’ Tim De Chant reported last month, Theranos could never deliver on its signature promise that it could perform more than 1,000 tests with a drop of blood. In reality, it could do 12. The company’s proprietary devices—first the Edison, then the MiniLab—were unreliable and had to be rigged with “null protocols” during investor demos to avoid raising red flags.
Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach in the series) spent months investigating Theranos and published an explosive series of reports. Forbes revised its valuation of the company to zero in 2016. Holmes and Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani (played in the series by Naveen Andrews of Lost fame) were ultimately charged with perpetrating a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors and patients. Both pleaded not guilty.
During the trial, the jury heard how Holmes personally approved investor presentations, including those fraudulent demos. The court also heard how Holmes had doctored Theranos-authored reports with the logos of various pharmaceutical companies, making it look like the companies approved of the contents. In fact, some contracts that Theranos had with those companies expressly forbade the startup from using their logos. In her defense, Holmes said she was merely “trying to convey” the partnership between the two companies.
Adding to the spicy drama was the fact that Holmes and Balwani had a romantic history for more than 10 years, which they hid from investors and Theranos employees. During the trial, Holmes alleged that she had been abused and controlled by Balwani, who was COO at Theranos for much of its existence. Holmes claimed that she was raped by Balwani and that he sought to control every facet of her life. The relationship ended in 2016.
On January 3, Holmes was found guilty of defrauding Lakeshore Capital Management (the family office of the DeVoses) of $100 million, PFM Healthcare (a hedge fund) of $38 million, and an LLC connected to Daniel Mosley (Henry Kissinger’s former estate attorney) of $6 million. She was also convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Theranos investors more generally.
On three charges, all alleging wire fraud against investors, the jury returned no verdict. Holmes was acquitted of all other charges, including those that involved defrauding patients. Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison and is currently awaiting sentencing, set for this fall—after Balwani’s trial has concluded.
Hulu’s series is based on the 2019 Emmy-nominated podcast of the same name by Rebecca Jarvis, who is an executive producer on the series. Per the official premise:
Money. Romance. Tragedy. Deception. Hulu’s limited series The Dropout, the story of Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) and Theranos, is an unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong. How did the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire lose it all in the blink of an eye?
Seyfried makes an alluring Holmes in the trailer. You believe this young woman could charm seasoned investors with her tremendous optimism, energy, and personal charm. Heck, even the jurors in he trial found her likable, despite finding her testimony not credible.
The star-studded cast also includes Laurie Metcalf as Phyllis Gardner, a Stanford professor who was among the first to voice skepticism about Holmes and Theranos; William H. Macy as Richard Fuisz, the physician who connected Carreyrou with the former medical director of Theranos; Stephen Fry as former Theranos chief scientist Ian Gibbons; and Camryn Mi-Young Kim as former Theranos employee and whistleblower Erika Cheung.
The first three episodes of The Dropout will premier on Hulu on March 3, 2022. After that, new episodes will air on a weekly basis.
Listing image by YouTube/Hulu