Inventing Anna tells two parallel stories. There is Anna, a woman pretending to be an heiress and socialite, and ripping off people and businesses along the way. And there’s Vivian, a reporter looking to tell the complete story of Anna, which will, at times, run counter to what everyone else thinks of her.
An ambitious journalist who’s looking to put a dubious story in which she was duped by a source behind her, Vivian, who has a baby on the way, promises Anna that agreeing to do the story will help the young woman clear her sullied name.
Julia Garner, best known as the ruthless Ruth Langmore on Ozark, plays Anna Delvey. Anna Chlumsky of Veep portrays Vivian.
The Shondaland limited series is based on a New York Magazine article titled "How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People," by Jessica Pressler. New York Mag becomes Manhattan Magazine in the series, and Jessica Pressler becomes Vivian Kent.
The story begins in 2017, and reporter Vivian has serious gumshoe tendencies. She snail-mails a letter to Delvey, in jail at Rikers, hoping they can speak. Getting a yes, she then hops on the public bus for the meeting. It takes a few buses to get where she wants to go.
“Another bus?” Kent asks a Rikers guard.
“Lot of buses here,” comes the response.
The Manhattan bosses are clueless males in neckties that call to mind the oblivious Baltimore Sun bosses in The Wire. Vivian clashes with her manager, and is mentored by other Manhattan reporters on the back nine of their careers. They sit in a corner of the office with no natural light that is known to reporters as Scriberia.
Despite Vivian’s old-school reporter tendencies, it is Delvey’s trail on Instagram that best steers the journalist.
The series personalizes Anna. She was initially portrayed in the media as a daft wannabe, but degrees of intelligence and ambition fuel her skulduggery. Garner depicts Anna nimbly. Her accent is a bit peculiar–a CNN critic called it “seemingly patterned after Balki in Perfect Strangers–but that is somewhat fitting, as no one seems completely sure if Delvey is Russian, or maybe German.
Anna openly critiques Vivian’s sartorial style when she visits. She pushes Vivian to classify her Rikers visit as an official media interview, which means she will be driven, not have to take the bus, and she and Anna will get a private room.
In jail or out, Anna always has her eye on nicer digs. “VIP’s always better, Vivian,” says Anna.
While Vivian is hustling to overcome the journalistic shortcoming in her past, there appears to be a bit of an ethical dilemma in her interaction with Anna. Vivian knows her story won’t happen if Anna takes a plea, and needs the story to salvage her career. She compels Anna to turn down the plea and go to trial, which stuns her attorney.
“I will make you famous,” says Vivian. “Everyone will know the name Anna Delvey.”
Arian Moayed, Alexis Floyd and Anders Holm are also in the cast, as is Laverne Cox, who plays fitness instructor and life coach Kacy Duke.
Inventing Anna gets off to a promising start, with the parallel story lines giving viewers two compelling reasons to keep watching. New York is a minor character, with the series offering loads of scene-setting Gotham shots, both at the penthouse level and street level. Garner disappears into her quirky role, and it’s fun to watch–especially for those who’ve already consumed the new Ozark episodes, and wouldn’t mind a little more Ruth. ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.