CHICAGO - With so much new TV out there, our critics are here to help you keep up to date on the buzziest premieres everyone is sure to be talking about. Check out their streaming pick of the week, along with recommendations for what they’ve personally been enjoying lately.
Inventing Anna (entire first season streaming on Netflix starting Feb. 11)
Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in episode 102 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Aaron Epstein/Netflix © 2021
Not everything about "Inventing Anna" — Shondaland’s popcorn-at-the-ready limited series about the wild Anna Delvey scammer saga — works. That includes its insistence on emblazoning the same tagline onto a different flat surface near the top of each episode. ("This whole story is completely true. Except for all of the parts that are totally made up.") But with a show like this one, the list of must-haves is really only one item long: Cast the perfect Anna. Everything else is negotiable.
Well, consider that box checked. Julia Garner absolutely runs away with "Inventing Anna," and that’s as it should be. The real-life Anna Delvey captured the public’s imagination because she’s such a baffling, contradictory, compelling figure. And Garner nails it as the self-proclaimed German Heiress who managed to thoroughly bamboozle (and bilk) the crème de la crème of New York society.
When "Inventing Anna" is actively engaged with its central figure, it’s soapy and irresistible. When its gaze shifts, however, it’s much less so. Based on Jessica Pressler’s sensational 2019 story for New York Magazine, "Inventing Anna" splits its focus between Delvey and Vivian (Anna Chlumsky), the pregnant reporter chasing Anna’s story; a woman whose career splinters thanks to a source whose relationship with the truth is what you might call flexible.
But Vivian’s story just isn’t as compulsively watchable as Anna’s. It’s as if the show wants to answer the questions "who is Anna Delvey?" and "why are we interested in Anna Delvey"? with equal fervor, somehow missing that the combination of a magnetic performance and a bonkers scam make that second question more than a little redundant. Of course Vivian is fascinated by Anna. So is everyone else watching.
Inventing Anna. (L to R) Julia Garner as Anna Delvey, Anna Chlumsky as Vivian Kent in episode 108 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
So it’s Garner’s show, and "Inventing Anna" allows the talented actress to paint with some new colors, all without sacrificing the underlying nuance of her work. Indeed, Garner has long proven herself a formidable talent, as evidenced by a captivating turn in 2020’s brutal "The Assistant," twin Emmy wins for Netflix’s "Ozark" and an unforgettable recurring role in the FX series "The Americans." (Few things are as sure to make a TV critic wax rhapsodic as the words "Julia Garner as Kimmy.")
But while her previous performances have been ones of rich interiority — subtle creations that leave plenty of room for the viewer to feel what her characters are trying to withstand — Anna Delvey is a cypher, a caricature, a mess, a sketch, a bundle of contradictions and, well, a bunch of other things. And Garner fully throws herself into this new type of role. Her accent? Unhinged. Her physical choices? Absurd. The emotional undercurrents running beneath? As potent as ever.
While the series may not come close to answering the first of its two questions, it has the sense to allow Garner to provide some answers of her own. Anna is unknowable, but it’s obvious that some part of Garner knows her intimately all the same. What a magnificent piece of alchemy, creating a character so obviously textured and human without sacrificing any of the inscrutability that made Anna so compelling in the first place.
Garner isn’t the only reason to watch the series — there are some solid supporting turns as well, particularly from Katie Loews and Alexis Floyd (each playing a onetime friend of Anna’s) and Arian Moayed (as Anna’s put-upon lawyer). And it’s impossible to resist the charms of Vivian’s greek chorus of weathered scribes, played with relaxed enthusiasm by Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Anna Deavere Smith, a true murderer’s row of character actors. Plus the story itself, unnecessarily sprawling though it may be, is the kind of tale that begs to be binged. But things could’ve been a whole lot messier and more insubstantial and "Inventing Anna" still would’ve been worth a look thanks to Garner’s commitment to blending absurdity with humanity. It’s an unforgettable performance. The scam is a corker, but the acting is even better. [Allison Shoemaker]
10-episode limited series. Six episodes screened for review. Complete series streaming on Netflix Feb. 11. Featuring: Anna Chlumsky, Julia Garner, Katie Lowes, Laverne Cox, Alexis Floyd, Arian Moayed, Anders Holm, Anna Deavere Smith, Kate Burton, Jeff Perry, Terry Kinney.
WATCH FREE ON TUBI: Anna Chlumsky in "My Girl"
What our critics are watching
From left: Nathan Chen (photo: Jean Catuffe / Contributor, Getty Images); Christina Ricci in "Yellowjackets" (photo: Showtime), Marshawn Lynch in "Murderville" (photo: Netflix)
Caroline Siede: In truth, the only thing I’ve really been watching lately is Olympic figure skating. As someone who actually follows the sport beyond just the Olympics, it’s been fun to watch the rest of the world get as invested in edge jumps and program component scores as I am. But in between watching Nathan Chen smash his short program and Jason Brown wow with his artistry, I’ve also been catching up on "Yellowjackets." The buzzy (pun intended) Showtime series takes place over two timelines: In 1996, a plane carrying a high school soccer team crash lands in the wilderness where the young women are left to fend for themselves for nineteen months. And in 2021, the survivors are still subtly carrying the weight of that trauma, even as they’ve carved out seemingly stable lives for themselves. It's basically "Lost" meets "Lord of the Flies" meets "Bend It Like Beckham" meets "Now and Then" but with more cannibalism. And with fantastic performances from the likes of Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Ella Purnell, Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci, it's proved to be a perfect tonic for these cold winter months.
The entire 10-episode first season of "Yellowjackets" is streaming on Showtime. The series has been renewed for a second season. Hour-long survival drama/dark comedy. Featuring: Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress, Ella Purnell, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, Sophie Nélisse, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sophie Thatcher, Sammi Hanratty.
Allison Shoemaker: I’ve spent the last week telling anyone who will listen to watch Marshawn Lynch’s episode of "Murderville," and you know what? I think I’ll do the same here. Netflix’s semi-improvised comic murder mystery series is an odd duck, a breezy viewing experience even when it doesn’t totally work. (If watching Conan O’Brien and Ken Jeong try not to laugh at Will Arnett is your idea of a good time, have I got a show for you.) But Lynch’s entry is easily the standout (though Sharon Stone’s episode is also a doozy), thanks largely to the former NFL running back’s game, relaxed presence. One might even say that when it comes to improvising on camera opposite the host of "LEGO Masters," Lynch is never in anything other than Beast Mode. (That’s a football joke.)
All six episodes of the first season of "Murderville" are streaming on Netflix. Half-hour semi-improvised comic murder mystery/prodecural. Featuring: Will Arnett, Haneefah Wood, Philip Smithey, Lilan Bowden, Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Marshawn Lynch, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong and a photo of Jennifer Aniston.
About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of "How TV Can Make You Smarter," and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
More great TV streaming (for free!) on Tubi
The Freak Brothers (2021): Based on Gilbert Shelton’s cult classic 1960s comic, "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," this adult animated series follows three hippie stoners who smoke a magical strain of weed in 1969 and fall into a 50-year slumber, only to wake up in the 2020s. "The Freak Brothers" is a Tubi Original. Rated TV-MA. Featuring: Woody Harrelson, John Goodman, Tiffany Haddish, Pete Davidson, La La Anthony and Adam Devine. 8 episodes.
Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009): One of the very best contemporary space operas came into being as an oddball TV reboot (you can stream the original series for free, too). Three Emmys, many Cylons and one devoted fandom later, it’s regarded as a soon-to-be classic, anchored by great performances from Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Grace Park, Katee Sackhoff, James Callis and the incredible Tricia Helfer, among others. So say we all. 74 episodes.
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? (1969): If the kid in your life doesn’t already know this show’s iconic theme song by heart, now is the perfect time to teach them. Rated TV-G. Dir: Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna. Featuring: Casey Kasem, Don Messick, Nicole Jaffe.
About Tubi: Tubi has more than 35,000 movies and television series from over 250 content partners, including every major studio, in addition to the largest offering of free live local and national news channels in streaming. The platform gives fans of entertainment, news and sports an easy way to discover new content that is available completely free.
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