My whole adult life, I have worked, like a schmuck.
Never once did it cross my mind to do a little hustle. Run a little scam. Pull off a little con, channel my inner #girlboss, lie to investors, or even bother to figure out what, technically, investors are or how they work.
I did my little job for my little bit of money to pay for my little things, like a damn loser. At least that’s how I’m starting to feel in the wake of a horrific bullying campaign waged by Hollywood.
The Daily Beast’s Obsessed
Everything we can’t stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
Series after series—nearly a half-dozen in the last month—have premiered dramatizing with breathless awe the stories of visionary millionaires and billionaires who are mythologized for their big dreams and the financial windfall they made a reality. Sure, they were, overwhelmingly, controversial crooks and frauds in the end. But for a while, they were also, and some still are, filthy rich. Titans of industry. Heroes. Messiahs, even.
Some of these people are facing prison time and copious lawsuits. But most of them are just living their lives, rich as all hell, despite getting caught fooling us all. I think at one point we might have thought of this glut of programming as cautionary tales, yet the more of them I see, the more I’m convinced that they’re aspirational.
Become obscenely wealthy by making it all up as you go? Sounds a little stressful, but fun! I wanna do some swindles.
The latest entry in this canon is WeCrashed, the new Apple TV+ series about WeWork founder Adam Neumann, his wife Rebekah Neumann, née Paltrow (cousin of Queen GOOP), and the spectacular rise and fall of the shared workspace corporation, for which the journey from a $47 billion valuation to near-bankruptcy was so rapid and shocking it’s as if someone had slingshot the company directly into the sun.
It’s one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction, can’t-make-this-shit-up stories that is so outrageous and unique that it makes perfect sense why someone would want to make a splashy TV show about it. Except for the fact that our society is such that it isn’t outrageous or unique at all, to the point that there are so many TV series coming out about similar stories that the reaction to them, at this point, is exhausted apathy instead of the intrigue you’d expect.
The story of Anna Delvey, the fake German heiress, was so mind-boggling that none other Shonda Rhimes tried her hand at adapting it for Netflix with Inventing Anna. The dramatic explosion of Elizabeth Holmes’ Silicon Valley stardom, detonated by scandal and fraud, is so juicy that there are plans to follow up Hulu’s recent The Dropout with a movie about her, this one set to star Jennifer Lawrence. Netflix’s Bad Vegan follows a famous New York restaurateur who stole from employees to finance a lavish lifestyle. Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber made its Showtime debut last month, and will tackle other tech giants in future seasons.
And let’s not forget about all the documentaries, too. What person with a Netflix subscription wasn’t obsessed with The Tinder Swindler? And remember that recent LuLaRoe moment, with competing docs vying for our attention? That was reminiscent, too, of the Fyre Festival documentary arms race, with both Netflix and Hulu pushing out their buzzy offerings about that shitshow.
And now there’s WeCrashed, which has some of the juiciest, TV-ready source material, but, premiering after all those other shows, no new perspective to offer on the phenomenon of the disgraced CEO or commentary on how we’ve created a culture that fosters such corporate scandals.
In fact, its biggest shortcoming is how straightforward it is in its telling, making the gamble to let the story’s salacious details speak for themselves. Unfortunately, that doesn’t impress 2022’s scam-happy viewers. Lying about billions of dollars that were never really there? Honey, we’ve seen that. What else you got?
What WeCrashed has is Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway in the leading roles, joining the red carpet of A-listers who have signed on to these projects, including Amanda Seyfried (The Dropout), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Uma Thurman (both of whom are in Super Pumped).
“Well, at least Hathaway is having fun. Leto is performing whatever intense facsimile of enjoyment that he is capable of.”
Their characters, Adam Neumann and his wife, Rebekah, are, in the grand tradition of these shows’ central figures, absolute weirdos. They are totally bonkers. If there’s a selling point to WeCrashed, it’s Leto and Hathaway having a blast getting to be so diabolically peculiar. Well, at least Hathaway is having fun. Leto is performing whatever intense facsimile of enjoyment that he is capable of.
They get to mess around with accents and voices; Neumann is Israeli-American, a dialect that Leto approximates far more convincingly than his Waluigi impersonation in House of Gucci, while Hathaway lowers her voice to that woo-woo yogi register that wellness enthusiasts love to employ.
Neumann was a striking presence, at 6-foot-5 with envy-inducing long hair and a propensity for walking around barefoot. He mystified people with his fawning speeches, typically served as a finely-chopped buzzword salad that was ultimately meaningless. Rebekah saw opportunity in the way people admired him, and encouraged not just the expansion of WeWork to dorm living and private schools for children, but into a spiritual and enlightenment space in which they could both share the spotlight.
Their enigmatic love story is the backbone of WeCrashed. It’s when the series diverges from that and goes back to the whole business aspect of things that things revert to feeling uninspired.
I’m not sure what there still is to say about these people. Each of the series hits the same notes, the same beats, and the same references. Did you know that Steve Jobs started Apple in a garage? I did, because all 47 of these shows mention it. (Seyfried as Holmes even has a poster of Jobs on her bedroom wall where a teen idol would be.) All of these characters are driven by delusion and entitlement as much as they are by deep conviction in their ideas. Take a shot every time someone uses the word “disrupt,” and down your drink any time a company’s finances are fudged.
There’s a documentary about WeWork called WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn that, at a quarter of WeCrashed’s running length, is much more worth your time. In it, journalist Derek Thompson says, “It was a period where you were rewarded if you could articulate a vision of your company that wasn’t just going to make money, it was going to change the world.”
Turns out not everyone is equipped to do that, though they’ll certainly run with the flattery if given the chance. “If you tell a thirtysomething male that he’s Jesus Christ, he’s inclined to believe you,” one business professor says in the film.
And therein lies my bitterness when it comes to these shows. Why isn’t anyone telling me I’m Jesus Christ? Not only do I often replace the water I should be drinking with lots of wine, but I would like to be very rich and don’t mind fooling some people in suits into thinking I can change the world—though I absolutely could not—in exchange for some checks.
Some critics of this genre are put off by the way the narratives unfold. You watch these CEOs build their companies from the ground-up against all odds, so that when they become desperate enough to lie and defraud, you almost hope they pull it off.
I don’t necessarily root for it so much as I’m perhaps jealous of it. I guess that’s my takeaway from these series. It’s time to do some scams.