As if the fitness titan’s real-life decline wasn’t enough, it’s now caused a second prestige drama health emergency.
If I didn’t watch Peloton’s year-long fall from grace happen with my own eyes, I may not have believed it. But after Showtime’s hit drama Billions returned for its sixth season by associating the brand with another bad man, it’s official: Peloton is the villain of the fitness world.
On last night’s episode of Billions, Mike “Wags” Wagner (David Costabile), a man who has put his body through unspeakable hardships in the name of money, suffers a heart attack while exercising on his Peloton bike. EMTs barge into his door to find him simply overexerting himself on the bike, and then take him to an ambulance. The Peloton class causing a heart attack is vile enough, but the real villain was Wags’s new boss Michael Prince (Corey Stoll), who called the ambulance after surreptitiously monitoring Wags’s heart rate thanks to an activity tracker ring Prince gave to all the stock trading employees without telling them he would have real-time monitoring access to all their data. In two minutes of TV, Peloton was attached to a near-death experience and corporate invasion of privacy — another body shot to an already-rough spat of publicity.
The season six premiere of Billions was available to watch for free across multiple platforms on January 21, two days before its Sunday television premiere. Days after people got their eyes on the now-infamous Peloton scene, and hours before millions more would watch it on Showtime, Peloton had enough of being painted as the villain and decided to fight back on its official Twitter account by informing its 188,000 followers that it didn’t agree for its machines to be used on the episode. They had enough of being associated with life-threatening incidents, even fictional ones: in December, HBO Max’s Sex and the City revival And Just Like That controversially killed Mr. Big (Chris Noth) by having him partake in a strenuous Peloton bike ride. The company had a viral ad that played up the plotline on the show — but that was scrubbed when Noth was accused of sexual assault weeks after the episode aired. To add insult to injury, Wags quips he’s “not going out like Mr. Big” in the Billions episode, a piece of dialogue Billions co-creator Brian Koppelman admits was inspired by And Just Like That.
While Peloton is becoming a plot device of the wicked on TV, it has bigger issues in real life that no one saw coming after its eye-popping growth in 2020. When a global pandemic forced everyone to stay home, Peloton earned a cultish fan base among people who wanted a taste of the normalcy from their workout classes. Sales of Peloton bikes increased by 172% in 2020, some Peloton instructors were attracting 20,000-plus people to their classes, and Time Magazine named Peloton one of the 100 most influential companies of 2020. But, as people started slowly leaving their homes in 2021, Peloton went from necessity to luxury, eventually becoming a parody of its former successful self. The company’s stock has dropped a staggering 83% from its all-time high of over $162 in December 2020, to a paltry $27.90 at the time of this article’s release. And this is months after it unveiled its Beyonce-inspired series of Peloton classes. If Beyonce can’t save you, you might not be worth saving.
Now, the company has to shrink itself in order to readjust bloated expectations. Last week, reports surfaced of the company is planning to halt production of certain bikes, and has already done so for some bikes. Seemingly in response to those reports, Peloton CEO John Foley said in a statement that the company is “resetting our production levels for sustainable growth.” Along with the production halt, Foley acknowledged that layoffs are options as the company tries to get over this hump. But, if the value of Peloton can drop by 11.3% on the day a fictional character dies in a Sex and the City sequel, the company may need an existential makeover to make the public believe this is the future of fitness and not simply a reminder of desperate pandemic times.