Over the last few months, viewers have been bombarded by a deluge of miniseries based on true stories. Most of these shows have already been covered by popular documentaries or podcasts, so there’s already a built-in audience for them, and I am one-hundred percent the target demographic for these shows. Here’s a rundown of some of the recent releases.
Part 1: The Start-Up Grifters
I love an excellent dirtbag story, and start-up founders are absolutely fascinating. When I found out that two of my favourite crash-and-burn stories were getting miniseries, I was all in.
These two founders, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Adam Neumann of WeWork, have a lot in common. Both Holmes and Neumann gained an insane amount of funding from large financial institutions and investors through charisma and passion alone. Like the typical start-up founders, they also convinced people to work in toxic, hostile work environments for low wages, promising millions after IPOs. However, in the end, they never really had an actual profitable product, just pipe dreams, and they were really just driven by greed.
The Dropout stars Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, the founder, and CEO of Theranos. Holmes attends Stanford, only to drop out like her idol Steve Jobs because she has an idea to change the world. Theranos boasts that they can run hundreds of lab tests on a single drop of blood from your finger. By the way, this is scientifically impossible, as any layperson could figure out. Meanwhile, she develops a relationship with Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), who joins her in running her new company. Somehow, Holmes convinces a bunch of old, crusty guys with links to the government that she has this invention and will change the world. Balwani and Holmes deploy smoke and mirrors to fool these investors. What makes everything so much worse is that the bunk test results are being released to patients. Luckily, a few employees went to both the New York Times and the federal regulatory agencies, resulting in Theranos’ downfall.
Amanda Seyfried was scary-good as Holmes. She had the strange, fake voice down pat and her mannerisms. Naveen Andrews’ casting was fantastic as well; he exuded the same presence as Balwani. Something bothered me, and I think many people might have misinterpreted it. The chaotic, inappropriate relationship between Holmes and Balwani was portrayed as such, with Balwani being the primary aggressor. This has led to some people thinking that this miniseries was attempting to paint Holmes in a better light, that Balwani was the only manipulative person in the relationship. I disagree; it showed Holmes as far more complicit than she claimed in her deposition.
I know a lot about this case. I have watched countless documentaries, read books, and listened to a few podcasts about it. I really enjoyed this miniseries and would recommend it highly. Also, the fact that this show premiered right before Balwani’s trial gives me a lot of joy because it’s making him look even worse.
WeCrashed, based upon Wondery’s podcast by the same name, chronicles the rise and fall of WeWork. Adam Neumann (Jared Leto) immigrates to New York City from Israel and wants to achieve the American dream. After various failed businesses, he meets Miguel McKelvey (Kyle Marvin), an architect, and they create a shared-coworking space company. Around this time, Adam meets a woman, Rebekah Neumann (Anne Hathaway), the cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow. These two raging narcissists are a match made in heaven. Somehow, Neumann manages to sell the idea of WeWork as if it’s a tech company and not a real estate company. After running out of money, Neumann decides to go ahead with the IPO, letting everyone see the books. His investors are no longer fooled in the end; the company was never profitable and was losing way more money than it could ever make.
Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway were perfect as the pretentious couple of Adam and Rebekah Neumann. At this point, I’m wondering if Leto even has to audition for insufferable pr*ck roles anymore. Do casting directors have him on speed-dial for parts like this? Also, I know Anne Hathaway gets a lot of hate, but she was similarly good as Rebekah. Hathaway almost made me sympathize with Rebekah, but then you remember that this chick fires people based on ‘bad energy’, and all that sympathy turns to eye-rolling. I’ve seen interviews featuring the Neumanns, and they were so on point that it was scary.
I would definitely recommend this miniseries about WeWork. It’s a fascinating look at the overall sociopathic tendencies of these start-up founders and their enablers.
Part 2: Small Town USA Crime
The next three miniseries cover unique and baffling murder cases from small towns around the United States. Interestingly, they also all feature female perpetrators; statistically, it’s relatively rare for women to commit crimes of murder or manslaughter.
The Girl from Plainville miniseries features the texting-suicide case that occurred in Massachusetts. Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning), a lonely high schooler desperate for friends, meets Conrad Roy III (Colton Ryan) while on vacation in Florida. They develop a mostly texting relationship, and Carter considers Conrad her boyfriend. These two are a messed up, modern version of Romeo and Juliet. They feed off their depression and other mental issues, creating a perfect storm. Conrad decides that suicide is the only option and threatens to never talk to Carter again if she tells anyone. So, she becomes supportive and encourages Conrad to go ahead and commit suicide. Conrad does commit suicide, and since Conrad’s parents think everything was just hunky-dory, they believe it must be a mistake. When police discover the texting relationship between Conrad and Carter, they investigate and decide that Carter should be charged with manslaughter.
I find this case completely ridiculous. I do not agree with the charge of manslaughter at all. If anything, Carter should have been charged with failure to render aid for not calling emergency services. This girl, a moody, overdramatic, attention-seeking teenager, was charged with a crime because an 18-year-old guy, an adult, decided to get back into his truck after a phone call. It still baffles me that this even led to an indictment.
This miniseries was not great; it dragged and was painful to watch. It could have been around four episodes and have told the same story. Also, Michelle Carter was obsessed with Glee, so the show’s creators decided to use that to introduce musical numbers. I hate Glee, so I found it highly annoying.
This miniseries was just painfully long and not worth it in the end. If you don’t want to endure teen melodrama, I suggest HBO’s I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v Michelle Carter.
The Thing about Pam, based upon NBC’s Dateline episodes and podcast, dramatized the story of Pam Hupp (Renee Zellweger). Betsy Faria (Katy Mixon), Pam’s best friend, is found brutally murdered in her home. Even though Pam is the last person to see Betsy alive and the beneficiary of her life insurance policy, the police and District Attorney never suspect her. Pam insists that Betsy’s husband, Russ (Glenn Fleshler), is the murderer, despite having no motive. This accusation has a massive problem; Russ has an iron-clad alibi. Russ is inexplicably convicted and sentenced to prison despite the alibi and Pam’s suspect behaviour. When Dateline, a famous true crime program, looks at this case and finds it ridiculous. Dateline conducts a thorough investigation of this case, uncovering the truth about Pam Hupp and the lives she ended for insurance money.
Zellweger does do well playing the vindictive psychopath, Pam. Obviously, she watched the numerous police interviews and court testimonies, and it was kind of creepy how she could mimic everything. The main thing that bothered me was the prosthetics, they weren’t quite good enough and incredibly distracting.
This story is bonkers and fascinating. However, this dramatisation was odd, and I didn’t really like it. The miniseries used portions of Keith Morrison’s Dateline reporting, which was excellent, but the format was off. Much like Dateline, it repeatedly showed the same scenes. It made the show about two episodes too long. I wouldn’t watch it again and probably should have stopped watching it midway through the series.
Based on a Texas Monthly article, Candy is the story of a 1980 gruesome axe murder of Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey) at the hands of her friend, Candy (Jessica Biel). Using the friend loosely, Candy had an affair with Betty’s husband, Allan (Pablo Schreiber), a few years prior, when Betty was pregnant with her second child. Betty finds out she’s pregnant again, and on that same day, Candy pops over for a conversation. During this conversation, Betty apparently goes ballistic and tries to murder Candy with an axe… However, Candy fights back and kills Betty with 41 whacks with this axe. Of course, it was in self-defence.
The marketing for Candy was so good. Hulu aired this five-episode miniseries on five subsequent nights, with the final episode on Friday the 13th. The commercials for it were compelling enough to get me to watch a series starring Jessica Biel, and I am not a fan of hers.
Overall, this one was just alright. I nearly stopped midway through the first episode because a baby was crying the entire time. I don’t regret watching it in one sitting, but I wouldn’t watch it again. Though, I will definitely track down the article and would watch a documentary series on the case.
I’m a Data Analyst, from the land of Matthew McConaughey. I’m an avid movie-goer and love seeing films in theaters. My most recent favorite films are Good Time, Only Lovers Left Alive, TENET, and England is Mine. When I’m not at the movies, I’m either reading or watching obscene amount of true crime and historical documentaries.