May 26, 2022

There’s a recurring impulse throughout Inventing Anna, the nine-part Netflix limited series on the so-called “Soho Grifter”, to apply the scam logic of Anna Delvey – a broke twentysomething Russian émigré who posed as a wealthy German heiress in mid-2010s New York – to society at large. Capitalism is a scam. So is meritocracy. Rich people can skate by on the assumption of their wealth; men fake it till they make it all the time. There’s a point to this, however blunt and flattening it’s made in connection to Anna Delvey. Part of our evergreen fascination with scams – an amorphous zeitgeist that includes everything from Fyre festival to the Tinder Swindler to upcoming series on Elizabeth Holmes and WeWork’s implosion – derives from recognition. They’re extreme versions of dynamics with which we’re all familiar: exploitation, manipulation of trust, seductive performance, inflation of the self.

Based-on-a-true-story television, like a scam, requires sustained disbelief; if done well, it’s a potent cocktail of truth and dramatic embellishment. There’s an implicit contract with the audience that some details will be juiced up, some facts changed. Inventing Anna, the first Netflix series created by Shonda Rhimes under her blockbuster deal with Netflix (2020 hit Bridgerton, produced by her company Shondaland, was created by Rhimes protege Chris Van Dusen), invokes this connection at the beginning of each episode with a cheeky reminder: “This whole…

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