Review: The Dropout

Hulu's limited TV series on Elizabeth Holmes shows how regulators failed to catch massive, dangerous medical fraud.


Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the disgraced medical tech company Theranos, was once seen as the embodiment of Silicon Valley. In some sense, she still is, although for dramatically different reasons.

Hulu's limited TV series The Dropout tells Holmes' story over a decade, from her career's humble start in a run-down office building where gunshots flew nearby to a palatial headquarters when the company's valuation was hitting $9 billion. Theranos sold a blood-testing technology that, according to its own hype, would revolutionize preventive medicine by scanning for a litany of potential diseases in a tiny draw of blood. It won Holmes glowing profiles in major media outlets and forged a corporate board that included former Secretary of State George Shultz.

What started off looking like a Silicon Valley success story did not end that way. We see the operation slowly and then rapidly unravel, as some workers within the company become disenchanted with the broken blood-testing machines and error-ridden diagnoses. (Those included, among other mistakes, a customer receiving a false positive for HIV.) As the company begins its descent, so too does Holmes, played with an unnerving intensity by Amanda Seyfried, who nails her subtle, wide-eyed ferocity and characteristic baritone voice.

It wasn't eagle-eyed regulators who caught the fraud. It was those disenchanted employees, followed by journalist John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal. The Food and Drug Administration isn't known for throwing caution to the wind—Americans have just watched its foot-dragging bureaucrats block access to lifesaving treatments in the age of COVID-19. Yet for more than 10 years, it somehow failed to spot the fraud at the heart of Theranos.