Is there no limit to how many rise-and-fall startup stories networks and streaming services will greenlight?
Not yet. Hot on the heels of “Super Pumped” and “The Dropout,” the stories of Uber and Elizabeth Holmes’ folly at Theranos, comes “WeCrashed.” It’s an eight-episode series about WeWork debuting on Apple TV+ on March 18, based on a Wondery podcast (as was “The Dropout”).
What’s next? “The MySpace Story?” (Actually. …)
They’re all variations on a theme: some alarmingly driven person gets a good idea and pursues it at the expense of everything, including friendships and loyalties, in their quest for success.
Why would anyone want to watch another one of these?
Leto and Hathaway don’t hold back in their portrayals
A couple of reasons, actually: Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway. The story wanders all over the place — characters that appear to be crucial to the story early on disappear for large stretches and then return without much impact.
But Leto is here doing his Leto thing as Adam Neumann, co-founder of WeWork — going all in, immersing himself in his usual way (and looking strikingly, and I mean unnervingly, like Tom Hiddleston as Loki). What he lacks in subtlety he makes up for in earnestness.
And yes, there’s an accent — Neumann spent part of his childhood on a kibbutz in Israel — but nothing so over the top as his Paolo Gucci in “House of Gucci.” Big as his performance is here, it’s positively restrained in comparison.
Hathaway plays Neumann’s wife, Rebekah, and nails the casual cruelty of the truly entitled. When she tells Neumann at a low point that the money is not important, he replies that the only people who ever say that are the ones who have always had it. (She has. He has not.)
Neumann is, by his own description, a serial entrepreneur. We see some of his early failures, like little pants with knee pads for infants and women’s dress shoes with collapsible heels.
He’s still selling products as a business student at Baruch College, but really he’s selling himself. He meets Miguel McKelvey (Kyle Marvin), and they hit upon the idea of shared office spaces. The original company was called Green Desk. They moved on to found WeWork, and a pattern emerges: Neumann wants more.
McKelvey is more cautious, and more subdued (as is Marvin’s performance). But Neumann has set out to become the largest holder of real estate in New York City, which means there are more investors to court, more banks to romance, more chances to sell his vision — when again, he’s really selling himself.
‘WeCrashed,’ like other startup stories, is ultimately about ego
WeWork becomes a kind of cult. Employees chant, “Thank God it’s Monday!” at the beginning of the week, working for low wages with vague hopes of a public stock offering someday. Neumann hosts “summer camps,” wild parties with musical acts.
Rebekah considers herself the soul of the company, oblivious to the inanity of her bromides. She fires employees for “bad energy.” For all of her talk of saving the world, she is ruthlessly vindictive. (America Ferrera is outstanding as a successful friend who learns this the hard way.)
She also has no idea what real life is like. When she starts an absurd private school which inevitably fails, she tells angry parents with a straight face that they should simply start their own school.
(An interesting side note: Anthony Edwards shows up as a mentor sort who is too trusting for too long; he played a similar role in “The Dropout.” He seems to have a gift for being played.)
There’s a point in all of these stories where you want to grab the protagonist by the collar and shake them and tell them to wake up and look around. Their self-regard and greed eclipse any sort of normal human behavior until they sabotage their own dreams and find themselves on the outside looking in. Sometimes it’s with billions in the bank, sometimes it’s with a prison term. But it’s always on the outside.
Ultimately you could give all of these series the same title: “Ego.”
It’s a modern tragedy.
Premieres on Apple TV+ on March 18.
Subscribe to azcentral.com today. What are you waiting for?