With Elizabeth Holmes scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, this week seems perfect for streaming “The Dropout,” the Emmy-nominated Hulu miniseries that chronicles how she was once acclaimed as the next Steve Jobs and declared the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
As the first of eight episodes begins, teenage Elizabeth Holmes (Emmy winner Amanda Seyfried) is a socially awkward overachiever on her way to Stanford University. Even as a freshman, she’s determined to gain admittance to a graduate research lab where she wants to develop a patch to automatically detect illness and administer medicine to patients.
Her advisor, Channing Robertson (Bill Irwin), puts her in touch with Professor Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf), who curtly discards Elizabeth’s concept. It’s a brutal reality check. But ambitious Elizabeth, working with lab partner Rakesh Madhava (Utkarsh Ambudkar), then comes up with the idea of a machine that can diagnose hundreds of illnesses at home with only a single drop of blood.
When in Beijing perfecting her Mandarin language skills, Elizabeth is attracted to Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), an older Pakistani-American businessman who made his own small fortune selling a website just before the dot-com bust.
Determined to drop out of college to form Theranos, a company to manufacture the blood-testing machine, Elizabeth convinces her parents to invest the rest of her tuition money. Since her father (Michel Gill) was devastated by the Enron scandal, he and her mother (Elizabeth Marvel) are skeptical but Elizabeth is insistent.
Although prototypes never actually worked, Elizabeth built her company into a valuation of $9 billion. Using her charismatic, youthful beauty to full advantage, she attracted chemist Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) and investors like former Secretary of State George Schultz (Sam Waterston) and Larry Ellison (Hart Bochner), even attorney David Boies (Kurtwood Smith).
Meanwhile, there are persistent threats from Holmes’s childhood neighbor/business nemesis Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy), who tipped off Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) about the Theranos fraud. Then along came the whistleblowers.
Adapted by showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether from the 2019 ABC Audio podcast by Rebecca Jarvis and directed by Michael Showalter, it’s expertly propelled by Amanda Seyfried as the cruelly manipulative, black turtleneck-wearing biotechnology entrepreneur who desperately wants success but totally lacks empathy.
Following a months-long trial that gripped Silicon Valley, Holmes was found guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Holmes and Balwani could face up to 20 years in prison for each count on which they were convicted.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Dropout” is a scamming 7, streaming on Hulu.
Interest in food shows and chef’s stories has grown exponentially, but they primarily focus on haute cuisine. Not “The Bear.” The first season of this intense FX series on Hulu revolves around the noisy kitchen in a renowned neighborhood restaurant in downtown Chicago.
Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) is a young James Beard Award-winning chef, earning Michelin stars for some of the finest restaurants, including Noma and the French Laundry; he was named a Food and Wine ‘Best New Chef’ before he turned 21.
But when his older brother Michael commits suicide, he returns home to run his family’s sandwich shop, known as the Original Beef of Chicagoland, serving juicy, thin-sliced roast beef with peppers and tangy giardiniera on a freshly-baked submarine roll.
Immediately, Carmey must cope with crippling debt, unbridled chaos and a recalcitrant staff. So when eager, highly-organized, Culinary Institute of America-trained Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) apples for a job, he hires her as his skilled, if impatient sous-chef, much to the consternation of surly, skeptical Tina (Liza Colon-Zayas), who deeply resents changing the traditional recipes.
Plus there’s genial Marcus (Lionel Boyce), the curious pastry chef, determined to craft the perfect doughnut. As troubled Carmy struggles to confront his own PTSD demons, complicating matters is loud-mouthed, obnoxious Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), baffled by his best-friend/boss Michael’s suicide and deeply resentful that ‘cousin Carmy’ is taking over the ramshackle establishment.
Reportedly based on Chicago’s legendary Italian beef sandwich shop, Mr. Beef, the stress-filled, character-driven series was created by Christopher Storer, who wrote/co-wrote four of the eight episodes and directed five, alternating with director Joanna Calo.
Jeremy Allen White (“Shameless”) attended cooking school and worked in several restaurant kitchens, among them the Michelin star-rated Pasjoli in Santa Monica, California. And real-life Toronto chef Matty Matheson offers gritty authenticity, peppered with comedy relief.
If you were intrigued by Antony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” or Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” you’ll be hooked and eager for the second season.
On the Granger Gauge, “The Bear” is an exciting, exhausting 8 – streaming on Hulu. “Thank you, chef.”
“Samaritan” opens with an animated, comic-book-inspired segment detailing the legend of how superhero twins – mortal enemies – fought for domination. Samaritan was the good guy, while Nemesis embodied evil. Both are believed to have died in a fiery warehouse showdown.
Switch to fictional Granite City, an urban wasteland that resembles Detroit, where 13 year-old Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) harbors growing suspicions that his mysterious, reclusive neighbor, sanitation worker Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone), is really the immortal vigilante Samaritan.
Fatherless Sam lives with his single mother Tiffany (Dascha Polanco), a hard-working nurse who is always one month’s rent away from eviction. One day when Sam is savagely attacked by neighborhood bullies, a reluctant Joe comes to his rescue, dispatching the youngsters with brutal efficacy.
“I believe Samaritan is still alive,” Sam eagerly proclaims. He’s further convinced when, while spying through a window, he sees how Joe’s naked back is covered with deep burn scars. But he’s obviously confused when Joe opens his freezer and it’s filled to the brim with ice cream.
Word of Samaritan’s return doesn’t resonate with villainous Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek), a gangster who believes that Samaritan only protected the rich and powerful, while his personal hero Nemesis championed justice for all the people.
To that end, Cyrus climbs up on a car and tries to rally confused Granite City citizens to support his resurrection of hammer-wielding Nemesis.
Working from a muddled if mercifully short script by Bragi F. Schut, director Julius Avery (“Overlord”) notes the concept was inspired by two 2000 films: “Unbreakable” and “Finding Forrester.” Yet, the filmmakers do provide a somewhat unexpected twist.
As the 99-minute plot plods on, 76 year-old Sylvester Stallone, sporting a heavy gray beard and a perpetual hoodie, stoically mutters, “I’m not going to wreck my knees entertaining you.” Yes, that’s from the actor who revived “Rocky” and “Rambo” numerous times.
On the Granger Gauge, “Samaritan” is a familiar, formulaic 5, streaming on Amazon Prime.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)
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