Inventing Anna: Limited Series from Shonda Rhimes
February 17, 2022 9:14 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

From the Netflix description: "Audacious entrepreneur or con artist? A journalist chases down the story of Anna Delvey, who convinced New York's elite she was a German heiress."

This show joins such current Netflix shows as The Tinder Swindler and The Puppet Master, and other recent series The Con and Dirty John, in treating real-life serial con artists.

Telling the story from the point of view of "Vivian Kent,' a character based on real journalist Jessica Pressler, was definitely a crucial choice. To me, it leaves the central figure of "Anna Delvey" (Anna Sorokin) somewhat opaque. Or possibly the enduring WTF aspect of her story is part of the success of her con game?
posted by BibiRose (27 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this was much better than most critics are giving it credit for, but I really missed Ruth's curls.
posted by Stanczyk at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2022 [6 favorites]

I'm most of the way through and it's been captivating.

“This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up.”

Playing out the story from the POV of the investigative journalist digging out the different storylines is indeed effective.

Julia Garner is great and I like her range here. It's established that Sorokin was born in Russia and schooled in Germany, but Garner's accent seems to drop sometimes and I'm wondering if that's on purpose or not.
posted by porpoise at 7:36 PM on February 17, 2022

"To me, it leaves the central figure of 'Anna Delvey':(Anna Sorokin) somewhat opaque. Or possibly the enduring WTF aspect of her story is part of the success of her con game?"

That's a common criticism in reviews, but I felt that this was intentional — I think we, the audience, are supposed to be mystified at who she is and how she duped everybody. She's a cypher. It's satisfying to me when a narrative doesn't make a complicated, baffling character entirely comprehensible. Some people are just WTF?

"...but Garner's accent seems to drop sometimes and I'm wondering if that's on purpose or not."

Everything I've read is that Delvey's accent was just really weird. Like, after it was said and done, people were like "didn't that crazy accent raise any flags?" But I think that's part-and-parcel of both Sorokin and the constructed Delvey: there's something so comprehensively off about her that it kind of short-circuits people's ability to make sense of her. That created a huge amount of chaff that obscured the truth of her. And it created a lot of room for people to take this ambiguity and read whatever they wanted into it. I think Garner thought about all of this carefully and deeply and her characterization is very studied, not inconsistent.

Finally, there were times when I thought that the facade of Delvey was possibly like the typos and malapropisms of Nigerian scam emails and the like: it filtered out the kinds of people who would be more likely to see through her scam so she wouldn't waste any time or effort courting them. Let the suckers self-select and come to her.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:34 AM on February 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

I just loved Garner's performance and I didn't find the slippage in the accent she used improbable for someone who speaks three or more languages. She-- Garner and/or Sorokin-- may have deliberately heightened the bullshitty quality to add to her mystique. (I think that's a brilliant point, Ivan Fyodorovitch.)

Now that I think of it, this show actually makes more of an attempt to address the internal workings of the con artist than most of the other current ones. They have that whole origin story for her. With the others it's mostly, well, they're just a con artist doing the con artist thing and the focus is on why the victims fell for it.
posted by BibiRose at 6:19 AM on February 18, 2022

Garner visited Sorokin in prison before playing the role and did the accent for her. She reportedly found it delightful. Another article I saw but cannot find the link for, said that people who have heard both think Garner's version maybe turns up the uncanny/unplaceable bit of it an extra notch, but is nevertheless fairly evocative of the real thing.

Given that the original "Anna Delvey" accent is a working class Russian who settled in with middle class Germans only to pretend to be upper class continental European by way of Manhattan elite, it really sounded odd from the beginning.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:33 AM on February 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

I will also add that Garner should be expected to turn in a positively dead-on accent as her accent work in Ozark has already shown her to be masterul. As Ruth, she is positively dead-on for the microregion, education level, and socioeconomic status. Tonality, cadence, exact phonemes, overall musicality and rhythm, just 100% A++ perfect. So much so, that as a person from an adjacent region in the MidSouth I was completely gobsmacked to find out she is in actuality, a nice Jewish girl from New York City. It is a top five all-time Southern accent by a non-southerner in TV & film. Truly superlative.

It is my guess that "can exactly nail highly idiosyncratic accents" was a key component in her getting this role.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:41 AM on February 18, 2022 [10 favorites]

I felt badly for Jessica Pressler. Love Anna Chlumsky, but the character Vivian doesn't come off well. It only becomes more believable that a teenager conned her earlier (even if the editor did let her down) once they show her falling completely onto Team Anna just by being negged for a while.

Once the retelling of the scam was done and the article was in, the show loses propulsion and just limps to the end.
posted by rewil at 1:23 PM on February 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

I really enjoyed the show up until the scam was revealed and the trial started. The lawyer and journalist as fawning fans for the misunderstood con artist didn’t ring true for me. Would have liked the whole thing to be about 3 hours shorter.

What I did think was well depicted was that Anna would have likely been stopped much earlier but her victims didn’t go to the police because the embarrassment would have been greater than the money lost. Also that her scan was propelled forward by other people running their own grifts.
posted by MadMadam at 2:56 PM on February 18, 2022 [10 favorites]

I said on Twitter "I can't tell if this is good or if Julia Garner's accent is just making me think it is." I haven't finished it but it's entertaining enough and I'm enjoying it.
posted by edencosmic at 2:41 PM on February 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

I felt badly for Jessica Pressler. Love Anna Chlumsky, but the character Vivian doesn't come off well. It only becomes more believable that a teenager conned her earlier

I suspect that's partly why this character got a name change. I do think (in the series at least) she was more fooled by the editor than the kid: She mentioned she had suspicions about the kid, but it was a fluff piece she didn't care much about and she trusted her editor when he said they'd check things out.

The level of fannishness definitely tipped over the top during the trial episodes, particularly imagining having a beer with her. I think a lot of the same points they made about what kind of scams and scammers get punished vs. bailed out could have been made even without the journalist and lawyer going full team Anna.

But overall I was entertained and liked a lot of the performances.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:14 AM on February 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm part way in and enjoying it.
posted by kathrynm at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2022

I loved this and I'm still chewing on it. I liked how there were no heroes, and how on the one hand Anna seemed like a complete sociopath, but on the other hand, she show made you kind-of see why people liked her.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:36 PM on February 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just finished. I like it a bit, but many of the attempts to, I guess, muddy the waters - like "men get away with things like this, so why shouldn't Anna?" - like... I'm not moved by that? Some people get away with murder, does that mean I should excuse other murderers? It's wrong when men get away with it too!

Like, just in the last episode, since it's fresh in my mind... One of the best moments of the series is when her lawyer finally tells her the fuck off, to her face, when she's throwing yet another tantrum about her court clothes, and it's the first time in 9+ hours where anyone has really confronted her with the reality of her bullshit. AND YET by the end of the scene he's right back to "I will kill to defend you however I can." Like - dude? I'd respect you MORE if you walked back into the court and quit, and I think I'm far from alone in that.

When the trainer is like "you don't drop a dime on a friend!" FRIEND? Friends don't steal $60,000+. Rachel - for all the complications of her personality and potential motives - Rachel didn't "drop a dime on a friend," she dropped a dime on a fraud, a liar, a deceitful sociopath.

I guess this just all suggests I had my mind made up and this didn't persuade me otherwise. But I'm fine with that. This is a sick culture that idolizes frauds, liars, narcissists, sociopaths. That's how we got Trump. In my mind, sympathizing with Anna is no different than idolizing Trump, and instead of really digging into that cultural disease, this series dodges and seems to suggest, "eh, maybe she's not really so bad." You don't get to condemn the "Wolf of Wall Street" finance-bro behavior and give Anna a pass at the same time - you've got to condemn all of it, always, or you're condoning all of it, always.
posted by dnash at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2022 [12 favorites]

I agree completely and I never once found Anna Delvey sympathetic. In particular, I was always aware of all the regular people she was hurting — for example, the service people who will suffer from the most immediate repercussions of her frauds.

One of my biggest and most painful life-lessons was coming to terms with the fact that dishonest or questionable actions that might have seemed relatively insignificant to me cause collateral damage to a number of completely blameless people, some of whom I care about quite a bit. The things we do have consequences. The implicit social compact against dishonesty, theft, and selfish opportunism is not only about the harm caused to those most obviously and directly affected, but is equally about the ripples of harm that spread outward indiscriminately from such acts.

We may with good reason interrogate Socrates's refusal to flee from an unjust death sentence on the basis of the sanctity of the rule of law; but it's most revealing when someone who does violate the law can't be bothered to even begin to engage with this calculus. Nowhere in this series is there once found any evidence that Anna considered how her actions might harm innocent bystanders. She is clearly not a latter-day Robin Hood in her own mind — this is how others have chosen to see her and justify her actions. It's not her view of herself or the world. Her view is more Nietzchean.

I admit a small amount of something like admiration or sympathy to Anna's single-minded resourcefulness and chutzpah. As far as it goes, we can see her story and rue that her gifts (and she is gifted, in a way) weren't channeled more beneficially. But she is in no way a noble figure, fighting a corrupt system. If anything, she embodies the corrupt system.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:16 AM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

You know, I have been devouring shows about serial con artists lately and always end up a bit unsatisfied. While I look for interesting insights into their personalities and motivations, it always seems to turn out quite simple and repetitive. Watching this show, so many touches were exactly the same kinds of things I've seen on other shows, like the impatience and eventual contempt with which Anna responds to demands for repayment. There almost seems to be a playbook for this. They keep it very simple and let their target do most of the work of being conned.

The people they target often seem more interesting, and not only, I suspect, because they are willing to reveal themselves and account for their experiences. Their motivations may actually be more complex than those of the con artist.
posted by BibiRose at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

She is clearly not a latter-day Robin Hood in her own mind

Like, at least Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos had the veneer of trying to improve health care for patients. But Anna's big scam was only about boosting her own ego, to build her own private treehouse club where she could be the ultimate mean girl deciding who's cool enough.
posted by dnash at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

by the end of the scene he's right back to "I will kill to defend you however I can."

This is where having them become fans watered things down (in addition to being annoying). I think the purpose of the fannishness was to help show that Anna wins people over. But in the end it undercuts (to me) bigger picture that the system protects the elites. Both by punishing crimes against the elite and not holding the elites accountable for their own malfeasance.

Anna wasn't convicted of scamming Rachel, who was (prior to selling her story) probably the most hurt by Anna's actions. She was convicted for her crimes against the elites, crimes that she was able to perpetrate because members of the elite were trying to make a buck. Keeping with the getting away with murder comparison, elites get away with murder because they are elite and that is who the system is working to protect.

If they had backed off on the fannishness, Todd still could have vigorously defended his client (both because it's his job and good publicity for him) and Vivian still would have had a story, but it would have been less about getting her out of jail and more about shining a light on a messy system that favors the haves over the have-nots. And less eye-rolling let's all get a beer daydreaming.
Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos had the veneer of trying to improve health care for patients

Elizabeth Holmes also come to my mind (convicted not for scamming patients, but for fraud against investors). I actually think Theranos's behavior is worse, in the end. Assuming the best of intentions (that it was actually about improving medicine rather than an ego trip)they started working with patients. At that point I think they surged from behind and moved past Anna on the scam scale (morally speaking).
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2022 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I agree that the weird fannish behavior was intended to have an audience proxy charmed by Anna as a demonstration of her weird charisma. And I agree that this didn't work. It was off-putting and (given what we were shown) not believable.

In real-life and in the film, it's self-evident that Anna had a way with people that seemed at odds with her otherwise prickly persona. It makes sense that the filmmakers would want to somehow make the audience complicit with her in this way, too. But I just don't think they managed that.

Instead, I'm inclined to think of Delvey as I think of Trump — that, in person, they both have the ability to charm people you'd think they never could and that this ability is utterly baffling and invisible when viewed from afar.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:25 PM on February 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm late to this party, but I am finishing the series tonight and I'm getting increasingly frustrated about the way the series handles Rachel... I read My Friend Anna at the very beginning of quarantine, and it was pretty clear then that Williams was naive and easily guided into taking on the $62k debt from the Morocco trip. But Netflix dragged Williams so much harder than I think was warranted: she happily rode Delvey's coattails, while Val, Kacy, and even Neff did the same. Williams chose to put her faith in Delvey when she ought to have known better, while socialite-composite Nora Radford and lightly-fictionalized Alan Reed made even greater misjudgments in even greater amounts. Williams is crucified in the last episode for grabbing nakedly at development deals, while Delvey committed actual fraud in similar acts and Vivian Kent is portrayed at nobly stopping at nothing in pursuit of her redemption.

Williams was incredibly misguided, selfish, and naive in her actions, and then she attempted to profit from her misfortune. Williams was a bad victim, and she played on poor-middle-class-white-girl to support her narrative. But there's no reason for Netflix to drag her as hard as they did, to the point where it seems like a personal vendetta: socialites, bankers, and even the central journalist get pseudonyms, but Williams does not. Nora Radford gets to be a victim of Delvey because she has the wealth to hide her shame; Delvey gets to make a Netflix deal to pay off her debts but Williams gets pilloried for similar hustling. Williams had no tact or finesse in her hustle, and her ambition is gauche... but dang, no need to have her actress literally scurry away in shame after a stairway confrontation where her double chin is filmed from below.
posted by lilac girl at 10:30 PM on March 19, 2022 [8 favorites]

The brief mentions of Fyre Festival bring the whole thing into real fraudulent life for me.
posted by Thella at 2:37 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'd say this was about one half of a good series. The Anna story was compelling. The Vivian story was not.

The Anna story was interesting because ... well, because it's about a fake socialite that scammed her way to the top of Manhattan society. Literally the whole reason we're watching the show. Julia Garner does an incredible job, and totally sells it.

The Vivian story was heavy on the tropes, and felt like something I've already seen 1,000 times. Scrappy female reporter who sacrifices her personal life for The Big Story. Complete with Contemptuous Husband Who Doesn't Get It (But Grudgingly Goes Along Anyway). Like if you were to make a show with just the Vivian parts and not the Anna parts, this wouldn't even rate as a daytime made-for-tv movie. Vivian is also used as sort a mouthpiece for Why This Story Is Important. There are a number of kinda cringey scenes where it almost feels like she's breaking the fourth wall to tell us why Anna is a story about power, sexism, cultural values, etc. Felt very didactic.

I think I was annoyed in general by the idea that this story is supposed to be nutritious somehow. That's not why any of us are tuning in. We're tuning in for the salacious details of a skilled conwoman who did the kind of things we'd all want to do if we lacked any shred of morality. Anna is not feminist icon, nor is she a Robin Hood. She's more of a rogue. There's a small part of us who wants to see her get away with it, because we'd like to imagine we'd have the chutzpah to do what she did. But I think we're also satisfied to see her get caught, because it's a reminder of why we don't do what she did.

Also annoyed by the treatment of Rachel. Almost seems like the filmmakers had it in for her. We're supposed to be okay with Anna's treatment of Rachel because she bought Rachel some shoes? Like if you buy me shoes, that means it's okay for you to rob me? And we're supposed to feel less sorry for Rachel because she got a book deal? She was never guaranteed a book deal — and I think she genuinely went through something awful. Why do we have to trash Rachel in order to tell this story?

Anyways, I think this show is worth watching just to see Julia Garner being awesome. But be prepared for a lot of filler.
posted by panama joe at 12:15 PM on March 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Anthony Edwards is now a year older than Wilford Brimley was when Brimley filmed Cocoon.

I knew Inventing Anna was a Shondaland production, but it was a nice surprise to see some familiar faces from Scandal, which I gave up on after a few seasons of what became hate-watching to see if the characters would ever stop addressing each other by their first and last names.
posted by emelenjr at 1:32 PM on March 22, 2022

I just finished watching this last night. It was great. I was also struck by Todd and Vivian becoming way too invested in Anna's well-being in the last couple episodes. I hadn't followed the real-life (?) Anna Sorokin story when it broke, and reading over her litany of cons to catch up was just exhausting.

This was the first time I had seen Alexis Floyd and she crackled with electricity. I expect to see great things from her.

Also, looking at the original discussion of Anna Sorokin on the blue, I noticed this comment: Is there any chance she may have inspired the writers of Babylon Berlin when they created Countess Sorokina? The story is clearly very diffferent, and the fictional scam is rather turn-and-twisty, but the name feels like too much of a coincidence! And the backdrop (NYC and Berlin in the Weimarer period) seems very similar. Oddly enough, Anna's father was portrayed by an actor who had been on Babylon Berlin.
posted by adamrice at 7:09 PM on March 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'd say this was about one half of a good series. The Anna story was compelling. The Vivian story was not.

could not agree more with this in general. I've never seen a show undermine itself so thoroughly as this show does with the Vivian storyline/framing; even the most compelling scenes of Anna doing her thing are ridden with bullet holes by all the banal, trite, expository journo-bookends.

those scenes just serve to make Vivian seem stupid, gullible, and bad at her job; it's no wonder they had to fictionalize her even further away from Pressler, as their treatment even of her just "being good at her job" is awful. she constantly asks silly, leading questions that exist as a pretense to cross-cut to an Anna flashback; her continuous wonderment at this con woman's success at con-womaning makes her look silly.

honestly wouldn't this have worked far better as a straightforward retelling? maybe keep the lawyer bit for some framing, since a few bits do work well with the advantage of being able to jump around articulately, but I do not need a character fumbling to psychoanalyze a protagonist who is not, ultimately, that hard to psychoanalyze. nor is the analysis the compelling reason to watch in any case.

but garner's great and makes the show tilt towards "worth watching" all by herself
posted by Kybard at 3:41 PM on April 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

YES Alexis Floyd. I came into the series in the middle, in a Neff-heavy episode, and she is so compelling that I almost (almost!) liked Anna just because Neff was on her side.
posted by Night_owl at 9:02 PM on April 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sorokin released from jail [guardian]
posted by porpoise at 5:35 PM on October 8, 2022

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