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Inventing Anna Is a Hit With Netflix Viewers, so Why Is the Critical Reception So Mixed?


I don’t claim to be some Nostradamus of the zeitgeist – able to immediately discern what will and will not amuse the world – but I am relatively clued into pop culture, and I write about this stuff for a living. So when I finished bingeing Inventing Anna, the Netflix-Shondaland limited series based on the viral New York magazine article about con woman Anna “Delvey” Sorokin, I thought, That was fun. I’m sure other people will feel the same, because I understand such things.

After all, Hustlers, the 2019 movie based on another New York magazine feature (written by Jessica Pressler, who also covered Delvey) had been a critical hit. And scammers like Elizabeth Holmes, Billy McFarland (the Fyre Fest guy, who is a minor character in the show), and the Operation Varsity Blues parents were all hot topics. I assumed Inventing Anna would find the same audience that devoured Gossip Girl and made Shonda Rhimes’s Scandal a hit. It was Succession, but trashy. Who wouldn’t like that?

Turns out, a lot more than expected. Though the series hit the top of the Netflix charts, critical reception and the reaction online has been mixed at best. (It currently has an audience score of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Reading the reviews only made me more confused. Everything I found fun, others found ridiculous. The choices that amused me rankled my peers. Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe it’s a matter of preference. But maybe the show, based on a story people had so many feelings about, wasn’t given a fair shake. In the interest of healthy debate, I present my rebuttal.

Let’s start with Anna and the actor who plays her, Julia Garner. According to one reviewer, “Garner’s character choices…all the inconsistency and evasiveness, with that awful accent…might make some feel cheated, or even like she botched the role.” Though the piece actually praises her performance, it still says she’s seemingly miscast. This is echoed in other outlets, with the general consensus being that Garner is a good actor because of Ozark but disappointing here because the accent is annoying and we never find out what makes Anna tick.

Here’s a theory: Anna is semi delusional and a compulsive liar. She has a weird-ass accent. Garner plays this to perfection. When she bursts into tears, it’s bizarre because Anna is bizarre. As for what makes a con artist a con artist, that question is explored by Vivian, who I will get to in a second. And the answer is: You can never really know another person if they won’t let you. It’s called Inventing Anna because Anna is her own creation, both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster. A frustrating, compelling, enigmatic central character whose motives are never adequately explained…is allowed. And this show does it well.

Moving on to Vivian Kent, a fictionalized Pressler played by Anna Chlumsky. There is a 280-comment long Reddit thread dedicated to the question of whether or not Kent/Chlumsky is “annoying.” Sure, she’s a little whiny, desperate, and self-absorbed, and wants more resources than her bosses are willing to give her at first. And okay, she’s in denial of her circumstances (pregnancy) even as she bumps up against unworkable deadlines. Sound like any other character in the show? It’s almost like the writers were exploring certain personality traits from multiple POVs rather than repackaging a likable Lois Lane.



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