The Pitch: If there is one constant running through the work of Shonda Rhimes, it’s this: Her instincts for what makes a good story are dead on. Not every show with her name on it is an out-of-the-gate hit like Bridgerton or Grey’s Anatomy — rest in peace, The Catch, a great little show about con artists that deserved more of a chance. But it’s impossible to say that a Shondaland series is ever boring.
Speaking of con artists, though… Inventing Anna, the new limited series premiering this Friday on Netflix, represents Rhimes’ first Netflix project that bears her name as not just a producer, but a creator. And you can sense why she chose not to hand this project off to someone else, given how many delicate elements are involved in these nine episodes — primarily, the depiction of its two lead characters, and what exactly this show is trying to say about them.
I’m the Hot Girl, I’m the It Bitch: “This whole story is completely true. Except for all the parts that are totally made up,” an epigraph declares as the notorious Anna Delvey (Julia Garner) introduces herself as the star of the show — the self-proclaimed German heiress who left thousands of dollars of unpaid bills behind as she partied her way around the world and pursued her dream of opening up a social club called the Anna Delvey Foundation.
While many true crime stories right now focus on dramatizing the crimes being perpetuated, Inventing Anna adds an extra layer from the jump by putting its narrative voice front and center in the form of Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), a reporter whose drive to not just uncover Anna’s tale, but understand who exactly Anna is, fuels the narrative of the series.
While technically based on Jessica Pressler, the real-life reporter who wrote the original Anna Delvey profile for New York, Vivian has her own history and her own complicated reasons for why a feature article on a recently arrested young woman is one she’s determined to pursue.
(Side note: What witchcraft did Pressler perform so that fictionalized versions of herself would be played on screen by both Chlumsky and Hustlers‘ Julia Stiles? Because that is some dangerous but wildly valuable magic, should she care to share.)
As Vivian investigates Anna’s life, social media proves to be an effective tool in tracking down acquaintances of the newly-arrested socialite, some of whom are still somewhat fond of their supposedly generous friend, while others are deeply skeptical and in some cases furious at the way Anna treated them prior to her arrest.
Rich Bitch With Some Rich Friends: Central to this is a small clique consisting of Rachel (Katie Lowes) and Kacy (Laverne Cox), and a now-infamous trip to Marrakesh that Anna said she’d pay for, but did not, leaving Rachel to cover tens of thousands of dollars of charges on her own credit cards — including a company credit card that leaves her position as a Vanity Fair book editor in serious jeopardy.
Rachel’s character is essential to understanding the show’s key question: How did Anna do it? Not embezzling an extremely large sum of money — but, rather, managing to integrate herself into some pretty powerful circles of influence with little more than charm and style and some bad checks.
It’s a question Vivian gets obsessed with, even as big changes loom in her life, including one deadline she can’t ignore: At the start of the series, she’s several months pregnant, and that baby is coming whether or not Vivian’s finished her article.
Love a Lot of Zeros, but I Don’t F*ck With No Losers: The chief flaw of Inventing Anna is that it never fully commits to telling one person’s specific story, even when portions of the overall narrative are handed off to supporting characters. This means that even while we’re deep in a flashback to a past incident, present-day complications keep interrupting, sometimes distracting from the show’s focus.
But, that said, all of the tiny pieces of Anna’s life, unveiled in this way, do ultimately contribute to a portrait done in the style of collage — not necessarily a complete picture, but a vibrant one. (Coming up with that metaphor wasn’t a struggle, because it’s something the show openly acknowledges with its opening credits sequence, as Instagram photos combine to create Anna’s headshot.)