tv review

WeCrashed Disrupts Nothing

Photo: Peter Kramer/Hulu

If there is one benefit to the gruelingly long, impressively ill-conceived WeCrashed, it’s how clear the series is, perhaps unintentionally, in its depiction of one dispiriting truism that fellow scammer shows Inventing Anna and The Dropout have both alluded to but not necessarily prioritized in their narrative: Money is made up, and the “valuation” process is an arbitrary echo chamber.

Admittedly, that is a fairly basic observation about how all these “disruptor” companies made billions of dollars in whatever stage of capitalism we’re currently in. But it’s probably the only thing worth remembering about WeCrashed, a tedious series that (rightly) paints WeWork founder Adam Neumann as a wannabe cult leader and (exhaustingly) asks for sympathy for his wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, whom the series positions as the real brains behind the company. There is little here that is enjoyable to watch and even less that is entertaining, and spending eight hours with the versions of these people portrayed by Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway is a punishment.

Like The Dropout, WeCrashed is based on a podcast, the six-part Wondery production WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork. Also like The Dropout, which focuses on the relationship between Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani while tracing how they became rich through the blood-testing company Theranos despite the consistent failures of its Edison machine, WeCrashed zooms in on the relationship between Adam and Rebekah to suggest that their codependency and devotion to family drove their greed. But that’s about where the comparisons end between the surgically critical, smartly constructed The Dropout and the surprisingly narrow, tonally disjointed WeCrashed.

Series creators Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello open WeCrashed with this subgenre’s now-customary in medias res framing with the board meeting on September 18, 2019, that led to Neumann’s removal as CEO. “This Is Where It Begins,” the premiere and one of three episodes Apple TV+ is releasing Friday, sprinkles in quick scenes and lines of dialogue that reveal the ultraelite world the Neumanns inhabit. Adam has three assistants at work to sort through his schedule and an assistant at home whose primary responsibility seems to be lighting his bong; Rebekah is meeting with a contractor to discuss expanding the “claustrophobic” kitchen that is objectively gigantic. The two of them call each other “my love” and “supernova,” get hyped by blasting Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and solemnly say faux-wise things like “Fear is a choice.” They are immediately hateable, and yet there are eight hours of WeCrashed to go!

The series then jumps back 12 years, when Adam, an Israeli Navy veteran and immigrant, was a struggling entrepreneur getting laughed at in business class for his pitch about a communal living space similar to the kibbutz on which he grew up. But Adam is persistent, and he’s a braggart, and those qualities draw two very different people into his orbit. First is spineless classmate Miguel McKelvey (Kyle Marvin), who is intrigued by Adam’s boasting (“I don’t want to be a billionaire; I want to be a trillionaire”) and showmanship and will eventually become the co-founder of WeWork. And second is Rebekah, who blows Adam off at a party and is disgusted when he shows up 45 minutes late to the date he badgered her for but then falls head over heels when he interrupts a yoga class she’s teaching to advocate for higher pay on her behalf. “I’m an entrepreneur, and I live for disruption!” he yells at the yoga master who’d been paying Rebekah $1 per class before Adam got involved. Then they’re making out in her apartment and inseparable from that moment forward.

She’s a vegan who bursts into tears at even the slightest suggestion of cruelty toward animals, and she says things like, “You have to love something other than money” while accepting $1 million checks from her father. He’s a striver who takes to heart Rebekah’s observation “You don’t care about what you’re selling. There’s no intention behind your work,” then decides to build a business based on communal office space. No matter that the way he pitches this idea — members can create “friendships and memories,” play games and brainstorm and drink together, and even fall in love — is completely antithetical to best practices for a work-life balance. A couple of pivoting pans over CGI glass walls, Ikea chairs, and foosball tables materializing in empty buildings tell us WeWork is catching on and the money is rolling in. Out of nowhere, Rebekah says they should push for a valuation of $45 million, but how and why aren’t exactly questions WeCrashed answers with any amount of depth.

Instead, the thesis of WeCrashed basically goes like this: Rebekah’s father was an embezzling criminal and Adam’s father was an absent deadbeat, so their underestimated children wrapped themselves in faux–New Age ideologies and somehow convinced investors that a real-estate company could “elevate the world’s consciousness” (a phrase repeated in practically every episode). That’s tidy, but it’s not enough to sustain eight hourlong episodes. So a level of dissonance emanates from the core of WeCrashed as it returns over and over to Adam and Rebekah staring into each other’s eyes during business meetings, kissing at work, and ignoring their children, who are left to be raised by an army of nannies and tutors. It’s enough nauseating public affection to make even a voyeur uncomfortable, and as a narrative technique, using their relationship as a handy explanation for everything that went right with the company and everything that went wrong with the company feels increasingly thin.

All of this comes at the expense of WeCrashed explaining what WeWork really does, how the company makes money, and the many scandals and lawsuits it has faced over the years. At a certain point, the series switches from being about the culture advertised at WeWork locations to being about its corporate doctrine, but that transition isn’t clearly explained, and there’s no discussion about what WeWork is like from a user experience. O-T Fagbenle is a scene-stealer as Cameron Lautner, a partner at an investment firm funding WeWork who immediately realizes that the rate at which the company is burning through cash is unsustainable, but the series only intermittently feints at addressing the problems facing WeWork from the bottom up. What roles were these WeWork employees fulfilling? How did they feel about Adam trying to define them as a tech company to get more funding? Were there whistleblowers or unionizing attempts? WeCrashed’s pace and plot are driven by the Neumanns, and that choice keeps the series’ scope frustratingly restricted.

In one episode, new WeWork employee Chloe (Cricket Brown) is introduced via a montage in which she drunkenly has sex with a co-worker in a closet at work, but the series never closes the loop on how WeWork was eventually hit with various lawsuits regarding sexual harassment, discrimination, and a “frat boy” culture. In another, onscreen text tracks the millions of dollars WeWork was burning through per day, but the series drops that tactic to focus on Adam’s frantic push to raise more money. WeCrashed isn’t obligated to cover the same ground as the 2021 Hulu documentary WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, but the gaps in its contextualization of WeWork’s failures are as puzzling as what it actually observes about Adam, Rebekah, and their love story — especially once the series pivots to chronicling all the ways we should feel bad for Rebekah.

The couple’s self-involved strangeness has been a recurrent component of news coverage about them, and Hathaway and Leto both embody that characterization. Hathaway appropriately hits all of Rebekah’s outlandish quirks — the horrendous Russian accent she whips out at a particularly excruciating moment, the irritated tone she uses whenever someone brings up her cousin Gwyneth, the facetious way she mimics poses of enlightenment or rebellion when buoying Adam before his employees or the board — and Leto is effective when either aghast or enraged, sputtering at paying $2.49 for a single banana or yelling at Rebekah for whining about not getting enough credit.

But the commitment of Leto and Hathaway’s performances does not make these characters any less torturous to be around, and WeCrashed’s focus on Rebekah’s desire for credit as a building source of tension between the couple is the series’ greatest miscalculation. So what if it was Rebekah’s woo-woo principles that helped Adam raise billions of dollars from investors? Why should we worry about whether she gets her due credit when, as Don Draper famously said, that’s what the money is for? She normalized nonsensical ideas for a real-estate company that helped create a workplace in which women were sexually harassed and employees were drastically underpaid, and the series’ final moments do at least acknowledge her hypocrisy.

But that’s only a sliver of self-awareness from a series that otherwise is primarily concerned with top-down maneuvering from the Neumanns’ perspective, an approach that makes WeCrashed feel like further gawking instead of a unique statement about these deeply unpleasant people. Eisenberg and Crevello manufacture drama from Adam pitting various financial firms against each other to drive up WeWork’s valuation and from Rebekah’s delusional belief that her WeGrow private school will change the world through “conscious entrepreneurship” for toddlers. There is grim comedy to Rebekah’s “I want to educate them from birth to death” mission statement for WeGrow, but WeCrashed is more nauseating than it is humorous. Whatever insights might be here are buried under gross fascination, and the Neumanns don’t any need more of that.

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WeCrashed Disrupts Nothing