When Deadline first announced Hulu’s The Dropout, a limited series about Elizabeth Holmes and the downfall of her scam blood testing company Theranos, Kate McKinnon was attached to both executive produce and star. The Verizon spokesperson exited the project in February 2021, deciding instead to take on the role of Carole Baskin in Joe vs. Carole, the dramatized Tiger King show, for Peacock. Now that a number of us have seen The Dropout and decided it is actually good, I want to ask: Can you imagine if Kate McKinnon was in that???
For those who haven’t seen The Dropout, I’ll explain that it is not a comedy. Although there is humor to be found within it (notably in the Walgreens guys and the forehead), writer Elizabeth Meriwether and director Michael Showalter are careful to balance Elizabeth Holmes’s extreme weirdness with empathy and gravity. Amanda Seyfried took McKinnon’s place as Elizabeth Holmes, and with that we were spared a baritone-voiced caricature of a red lipstick-wearing turtleneck freak, instead getting a compelling portrayal of a whole person turtleneck freak. She’s great in it.
Seyfried is able to depict one of the weirdest weirdos of all time with an appropriate amount of delicate seriousness, while simultaneously doing a silly voice and, frequently, a silly dance. It isn’t an easy task. I don’t necessarily doubt that Kate McKinnon could handle a non-comedic role, but a non-comedic role that necessitated a silly costume, a silly voice, and silly dancing? Oh no. I fear this would have been far too tempting for the SNL star, whose main tricks are “comedy voice” and “comedy hobbling.” I fear it would have quickly veered into the realm of … sketch. :(
The Dropout’s timeline stretches from Elizabeth Holmes’s senior year in high school to her deposition in 2018. Seyfried pulls off playing teenaged Holmes due to her own death-grip on youth and big Bambi eyes, but it isn’t something most 36-year-olds would be able to do without a Dear Evan Hansen vibe. And, well … can you imagine Kate McKinnon playing the teenage version of Elizabeth Holmes? Can you imagine Kate McKinnon in the scene where she’s on the couch at William H. Macy’s house while her Enron dad is asking for help? Remember that scene? Also, remember when she threatens Stephen Fry? This was when she was an adult, but … that was going to be Kate McKinnon???
Seyfried is also surrounded by actors. Real ones. Elizabeth Marvel, Laurie Metcalf, Naveen Andrews, William H. Macy. It’s hard to imagine McKinnon in that space, (no offense, none taken), and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the show was completely reconfigured after she exited. The humor of the Walgreens guys, for example, works because it contrasts the show’s seriousness. The low voice and wacky dancing, too, are made more bizarre because of the elements of Elizabeth that feel at least somewhat relatable. She isn’t a joke. She’s just really fucking weird.
Perhaps McKinnon came to understand The Dropout was not a good fit and, like Nicole Kidman attempting to quit Being the Ricardos, left before she had a chance to embarrass herself. Maybe she weighed her possibilities and incorrectly decided that Tiger King was the too-soon dramatic retelling that would stick in the public consciousness for a longer period of time. Or maybe she thought it would be more fun. Or maybe she … I don’t know. It isn’t for us to know. But we are lucky for it.
The Dropout is good. It would not have been good had Kate McKinnon remained a part of it. So thank you, Kate McKinnon. And thank you, Amanda Seyfried. And thank you, of course, to Elizabeth Holmes — you absolute freak.