Your Favorite Celebrity Could Be Playing Your Least Favorite Tech Villain on TV

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Amanda Seyfried, in character as Elizabeth Holmes, wears black pants and a black turtleneck and sits on the floor talking on the phone, her back against white filing cabinets, papers spread out before her.
On March 3, Hulu will premiere the series 'The Dropout,' starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos founder recently convicted of defrauding her investors. (Beth Dubber/ Hulu)

On Feb. 11, Netflix will premiere the series Inventing Anna, in which Julia Garner plays Anna Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin), the supposed heiress who became a topic of conversation after she was accused of defrauding banks, hotels and various people both rich and not so rich.

On Feb. 27, Showtime will premiere the series Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Travis Kalanick, who was pressured into resigning from Uber after a series of allegations about the company's corporate culture and its mishandling of sexual harassment allegations.

On March 3, Hulu will premiere the series The Dropout, starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos founder recently convicted of defrauding her investors.

And on March 18, Apple TV+ will premiere WeCrashed, in which Jared Leto plays Adam Neumann, the colorful WeWork founder eventually forced out of the company, accused of conflicts of interest and mismanagement.


There's plenty to separate these stories from each other: Holmes and Sorokin have been convicted of crimes; Kalanick and Neumann haven't. Sorokin was accused of more personal deception like falsifying documents, faking financial records, and failing to deliver on promises to pay people back for things; the other three eventually got in trouble with investors or board members at huge companies they founded. Theranos has completely fallen apart as a business; Uber certainly hasn't. And even the structures of these projects can vary: Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber is envisioned as the first season of an entire Super Pumped anthology series about shocking business stories, meaning you could even get a Super Pumped: Theranos or Super Pumped: WeWork season in the future.

But there's also a lot that unites these projects: high-profile stars playing people who fell from grace. Specifically, people who shared the trait of having been being gigantically ambitious when it came to making and possessing money.

We're partly seeing a collision of scandal documentaries (and podcasts) with the limited-series streaming boom and the "movie star does prestige TV project" thing that's been going on for quite a while now. You can throw in a little bit of what we might call "First-Look-itis," the pattern of shows relying heavily on the publicity of "here's what this actor looks like playing this real person" photos that can precede premieres by months. (Think, for instance, of the attention Sarah Paulson got back when we first saw her playing Linda Tripp for FX's Impeachment: American Crime Story.) We got first-look photos of Seyfried, of Garner, of Leto, all billed as transformations. (There were photos of Gordon-Levitt, too, but ... he kinda just looks like himself.)

Stories of alleged malfeasance or even outright scamming, whether in scripted or documentary form, are so popular and numerous that they're starting to form an interconnected Greedy Cinematic Universe: at least one of these series shows its protagonist crossing paths with Billy McFarland as he was coming up with what became Fyre Festival, the disastrous music getaway that was the subject of two juicy streaming documentaries in 2019.

Part of all this might be schadenfraude, but it's not like all these people have fallen on particularly hard times. A January Wall Street Journal article says Neumann is now an "apartment mogul," and Kalanick is in the food-delivery business with a whole new company—that's already been featured in one Vice investigation. It might not be as much fun, but it might be more instructive to do an anthology series about all the "second acts'' that people like the ones in these stories manage to put together for themselves and the unlikelihood of stamping out a kind of wrongdoing simply by exposing one example of it.

Because a series that presents the downfall of a person accused of dishonesty, or bad behavior, or negligence, or just being a great big jerk, without following up to see whether any of the consequences stuck? That is a limited series.

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