‘Inventing Anna’ and the Warning Signs of a TV Con Job
I approached Netflix’s Inventing Anna with the reluctance of a gas station taco. If it wasn’t for Julia Garner starring as the titular “Anna” and a late-Sunday desire to debase myself with the TV equivalent of a jaunt down Bourbon Street, it would have been an obvious pass. But that holy convergence did happen, and so I found myself pressing play on a game of TV telephone which sought to convert a real-life story that was chronicled in a sprawling 2018 New York Magazine expose into a 2022 Netflix mini-series. The true story was ripe for dramatization: an average Russian/German 22-year-old woman named Anna Sorokin who came to New York with the adopted name of Anna Delvey, masquerading as a German billionaire heiress and racking up unpaid luxury tabs while simultaneously defrauding major financial institutions and leaving close associates in reputational and financial ruin.
The article, written by Jessica Pressler, might have been pitched because of the shoulders Delvey rubbed, the banks she bamboozled, or the city she did it all in, but its publication gained traction in large part because of how utterly delicious it was to read about a normal mid-20s woman with a bizarre, fake accent leaving the Manhattan high-brow society with egg on their face. That was the high-water mark of potential for this show, an opportunity to sit on our comfy thrones of judgment and watch un-sympathetic, greedy elites get their just comeuppance at the hands of someone whose only redeeming quality is her ability to foist embarrassment upon rich scoundrels — the rare gas station taco leaving us satisfied rather than questioning “is that chicken?”
I was skeptical a Shondaland Netflix production would tell this story through my preferred lens of unfettered greed meeting consequence, and after 9 episodes and about 10-hours of being force-fed a disjointed narrative of redemption, triumphant journalism, and “Is Stewey From Succession Actually Stewey From Succession?” I can confirm my suspicions were valid.
I knew going into the show it might be an uphill battle past cringe, but for the less cynical viewers and the ones like Delvey’s friends who knew something was amiss but ignored their instincts to preserve the gravy train of entertainment, here are a few warning signs that you’re in the middle of a TV con job.
The Cold-Call Montage
Early in the season, we watch Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), who is a stand-in for Jessica Pressler, call through her list of leads looking for information on Anna. We see the rejection, the “just one question” plea before the dial tone is heard, even the frantic pacing. Going forward, the cold-call montage must join hands with the “widow remembering their late lover in a soundless, sun-drenched, laughter-filled bedroom” montage and move to Boca Raton, never to be heard from again.
Kudos to Julia Garner — most of the time when the show worked, it was because of her performance. Listening to her channel Delvey’s accent and inhabit her persona so flawlessly was almost transformative, but the problem with a Creed cover band is that they’re still covering Creed — and in the case of Garner’s accent, pinpoint accuracy left us with a voice stray cats would run from.
“Based On The Story Of a True Story”
Idioms like “truth is stranger than fiction” get bandied about frivolously but in the case of Inventing Anna, it reads like scripture. This was an insane story of delusion and deceit, but instead of highlighting those themes (which on the rare occasions they were featured were quite affecting), the bizarre choice was to highlight the reporting of the story.
Sometimes when you pour a wonderfully refreshing beverage down a funnel the result is lukewarm and diluted.
10+ “Central” Characters
Remember when you were in college and you met someone who was completely obsessed with a movie? They were so far down the Goodfellas rabbit hole that they wouldn’t even mention De Niro or Pesci, because they were at a point of devotion they’d be referencing ‘Camera Operator 3’ as a genius who should be triumphed above Scorsese?
That’s how this story was treated — nothing was unimportant and every single associate or friend was foundational. The writers refused to trim the fat, and a note like “do we really need to include this person?” was likely met with a shiv or a firing.
A Character Dressed Like This
“People Squat in Fields Every Day”
This, a statement referencing the process of childbirth that was uttered several times in various episodes is a red flag so vibrant even a matador would shudder.
These types of quotes and references were common throughout the series — something the show fixated on so confoundingly that as viewers we had to assume it was plucked from a firsthand source because the idea that a writer’s room not only gave it the green light but said let’s run this back a few more times defies logic.
Exit Survey: Who should be most upset with their depiction?
- Jessica Pressler (Vivian Kent — played by Anna Chlumsky): Not sure that being portrayed as an uninterested mother with a Charlie Day-inspired detective wall in the nursery and some dubious journalistic standards was what Pressler had in mind when she learned her likeness would be featured in a Netflix series.
- Todd Spodek (played by Arian Moayed): Apparently the price of being depicted by an actor objectively more handsome than you is having your innermost inadequacies and family neglect put on full display.
- Anna Sorokin (Played by Julia Garner): We’re not a very literate country. Outside of the circles who read long-form, New York Magazine exposes, not that many people had heard the name Anna Sorokin or Anna Delvey before the show. I understand she craves fame — I’m guessing this isn’t the type of fame she envisioned.
- Rachel DeLoache Williams (played by Katie Lowes): Could your stomach handle the roller-coaster ride of getting whirled around the globe with VIP treatment before suddenly being put on the hook for over $60,000, losing your job, and then parlaying all of that into a successful book deal — but now, years later, being depicted as a spoiled opportunist? I hope the real Rachel has some Dramamine.
- Alan Reed’s Daughter: Alan Reed (played by Anthony Edwards), the attorney who co-signs Delvey’s financial legitimacy without due diligence, isn’t a real person. The depiction of his character, based on New York real-estate lawyer Andrew Lance, takes many liberties — one of which is the portrayal of Reed’s daughter (played by India Ennega). I don’t know if Lance has a daughter in real life, but if he does, I’m sure she’s probably somewhere saying “what the fuck?” Her dad gets conned by a girl barely older than she was, and now she’s taking jabs on Netflix as a proxy for spoiled millennials, and in case that wasn’t enough, it’s implied she begged her dad for money so she could attend Fyre Fest? Tough beat.