'Super Pumped' And 'The Dropout' Show Why Tech Biopics Don't Work
We live in a golden era of flashy "based on a true story" shows about the rise and fall of morally dubious tech entrepreneurs: Showtime's Super Pumped (about disgraced Uber co-founder Travis Kalanik) started last week; Hulu's The Dropout (about even-more-disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes) starts this one; Apple TV's WeCrashed (about the double-disgraced couple behind WeWork) starts later in the month; and on a related note, Netflix already debuted Inventing Anna, about fake the heiress who swindled a bunch of rich people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by simply being full of herself (so technically not an entrepreneur, but in the same wheelhouse).
Too bad these shows seem to be ... not very good?
Advance reviews for Super Pumped, The Dropout, and even Inventing Anna described them as "a bit of a slog" and "listless" and "too long and meandering," respectively. It turns out that the details of these high-stakes cons may make for fascinating casual reading while you're pooping (incidentally, did you know Holmes let a dog defecate all over Theranos' offices or that Uber's "driver screening" fee was 100% BS?), but when you recreate those moments with actors, it's just the most boring crap ever. You can already see how hard they were trying to make things interesting in Super Pumped's trailer, which presents rapid-cut shots of inter-office drama moments like it's a montage of Vin Diesel driving a car off a cliff.
Super Pumped is made by the people behind Billions, so why does it currently have less than half of that show's Rotten Tomatoes score (43% vs. 89%)? Probably because Billions has the benefit of being completely made up while Super Pumped isn't just based on a true story -- it's based on a story about a tech bro making questionable decisions, which isn't exactly a riveting subject matter for an 8-hour drama. At one point in the trailer, the protagonist says, "We are kings, gods!" WeCrashed's teaser also ends with a bit about Jared Leto's character comparing himself to God, as if "massive ego" is something unique or noteworthy in the world of business.
Even talented directors like David Fincher or Adam McKay (who is making his own Theranos biopic with Jennifer Lawrence) can only make these stories worth watching for a couple of hours, and only by forcing a narrative that probably didn't exist in real life. The Social Network is structured around conjectures about Mark Zuckerberg's personal life and ended up telling a tiny, insignificant part of Facebook's overall story. Who cares if Zuckerberg's (mostly made up) drama with his ex-girlfriend when his company helped turn the internet into an angry hellscape?
Incidentally, the Super Pumped team is preparing a second season about Zuckerberg's further woes. Our suggestion? Give it to the Silicon Valley guys, with Thomas Middleditch as Zuckerberg and all. By this point, it's clear that the best way to treat these characters isn't as troubled geniuses but as straight-up dumb people who happen to know how to code.
Top image: Showtime, Hulu