Inventing Anna: With this scam artist drama, Netflix is hustling its audience a little too

TV review: This mini-series falls flat and offers no insight into Anna Delvey or her crimes

The story of Anna Delvey, the fake heiress who hoodwinked half of Manhattan, is so bizarre it could only be true. No fiction writer could have cooked up a morality play as absurd as that performed by Delvey, who, passing herself as Eurotrash royalty, infiltrated the inner chambers of New York high society – while making sure the socialites and fashionistas she duped picked up the bill.

Which is perhaps why Shonda Rhimes’ soapy mini-series about Delvey – real name Anna Sorokin – falls so flat. As fans of Bridgeton and Grey’s Anatomy will testify, Rhimes’s signature is kitschy escapism with a glossy soundtrack. But how can you add fizz to a tale so manically over-the-top to begin with?

It's hard not to think that, in passing off this chintzy filler as prestige thriller, Netflix is hustling its audience a little too

Rhimes has cranked out Inventing Anna (Netflix from Friday) ahead of the second season of Bridgeton. However, she commits the huge error of taking the focus off Delvey, a Russian scam-artist given a jet-set Mitteleuropa accent by Ozark's Julia Garner. Having been apprehended for her multiple shakedowns, Anna spends most of her screen time sulking in prison, while Rhimes zooms in on the reporter who broke the story.

Jessica Pressler, who published an exposé of Delvey in New York Magazine, becomes Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky) from “Manhattan” magazine – a sleight of hand about as sophisticated as Delvey’s tactics of running up huge bills at five star hotels and then skipping town.

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As is mandatory for every on-screen journalist since the dawn of time, Kent presents a tragic figure: she is one of those obsessive loners who refuses to let anything get in the way of her story. Not even the fact she’s pregnant or that her boss has already set her a perfectly decent task investigating sexual harassment on Wall Street can throw her off the trail.

Kent ignores that assignment to instead interview the incarcerated Delvey at Riker’s Island. Part of the journo’s backstory is that she needs to redeem herself after mucking up a previous yarn. Alas, Delvey seems far too uninteresting to save Kent’s career. Far from having anything to say for herself, she mostly just insults the reporter: “What are you wearing, you look poor?”, “Are you pregnant or just so very, very fat?”

Because one struggling middle-class person isn’t enough, Rhimes also focuses on Delvey’s sad-sack defence lawyer, played by Succession’s Arian Moayed. He’s a kid from the streets who married a rich wife and now lives in a nice house in Brooklyn. Naturally he feels conflicted about having scrambled free of his humble background and, just like Kent and her potential scoop, sees in Anna chance for redemption.

Nobody in the real world struggles with problems of this sort. They are, however, a speciality of Rhimes, who, with the hospital-set Grey’s Anatomy, more or less invented the genre of tragic overachiever. And Grey’s Anatomy really is the level at which Inventing Anna is pitched. It’s flighty and hokey and offers no insight into Delvey or her crimes. Delvey was a master deceiver. But it’s hard not to think that, in passing off this chintzy filler as prestige thriller, Netflix is hustling its audience a little too.