2 out of 5
Created by: Shonda Rhimes
covers season 1
Setting aside questions about swindler Anna Delvey’s “true” self, and what may have set her down her path in life, or what her actions say about us simpletons in society at large – questions which Netflix’s show about Delvey, ‘Inventing Anna’, asks with faux-interest – and similarly setting aside the more complex intentions journalist Jessica Pressler may’ve had when writing her article about Delvey, which serves as the framework for the series, the character of Anna – real name Anna Sorokin – and her social presence, and Pressler’s article, are essentially all clickbait. It’s the reality TV “I watch it to learn about people” justification; the slowing-down-to-gawk-at-traffic-accidents cliche: there’s no inherent value in this stuff, and we love to latch on to celebrity and tragedies equally, armchair commentating the whole while through. And coming from clickbaity TV queen Shonda Rhimes, ‘Inventing’ is in no way avoiding that same approach and reaction, half-heartedly finger-waggling at Delvey’s behavior but in awe of her baddest-bitch routine all the same; shaming her excess and jealous of it. Robbed of the fiction of her indulgent Shondaland shows – though trying to wink her way around that by accompanying every episode with a tagline along the lines of “this is all true, except the stuff we made up,” – ‘Inventing Anna’ can never achieve the ridiculous highs of that stuff, and instead tries to coast partially on the shallow mystery of Delvey (played with appropriate bravado and mysticism by Julia Garland), and then backfill with episodes vaguely dedicated to the other characters in this story: her social circle; and Anna Chlumsky’s take on Pressler, with the show giving the pacing the ticking clock of her upcoming pregnancy as the cutoff by which she needs to get this article out to save her career.
Episodes are hardly about anything except repeating the cycle of Delvey bullying her way into paying for everything on credit; getting business backings off of fake clout; and Pressler being aghast (impressed?) at how it was all done. Past a certain point, ‘Anna’s’ writers offer their armchair commentary by asking what the point of all of this is, but it’s surface level: we’re right back to gawking and gossiping some minutes later.
Even the attempted structure of character focus fails: we’ll often have to swap in other characters to fill the runtime, episodes stumbling over themselves with flashbacks and fancy editing – regular Shondaland tricks, fair enough, but here no longer propped up by her show’s usual bevy of twists -and, again, not really arriving at anything new to show or say.
When we step away from Delvey, the show can find its footing a bit more, Pressler’s home and job life offering more depth than the tiresome glitz of Anna’s tale, and interactions with Anna’s lawyer (Arian Moayed) or her aforementioned friends / social clique (Katie Lowes, Alexis Floyd, Laverne Cox) allowing for more emotion and nuance. These scenes also seem somewhat subject to their directors, though, with some episodes’ actors’ deliveries very stilted, some proving more naturalistic. Garney is consistent throughout, and admittedly fun to watch, but by the nature of her character, she’s always “playing a role,” and the show rather purposefully avoids deep dives into what’s behind that role, leaving Garney / us to make do with some occasional glances or sudden expressions of worry.
Similar to Hulu’s The Dropout, the recency of the events depicted in Inventing Anna make the show’s intentions hard to discern. But Inventing Anna is missing some of Dropout’s smarter structural / conceptual decisions, and instead mirrors its topic: it’s mostly just for show. This lack of overall point, combined with a “based on reality” inability to push some Shondaland theatrics into the mix, results in a pretty empty, clunky viewing experience.