In recent years, the scammers and corporate scammers (but mostly women) who deceived America’s elites have been in the headlines. But in recent months, the most prominent have received the Hollywood treatment from major streaming sites: socialite scammer Anna Sorokin in Netflix’s ‘Inventing Anna’, notorious fraudster Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s ‘The Dropout’ and co – cult WeWork founders Adam and Rebekah Paltrow Neumann in Apple TV+’s “WeCrashed.”
There’s too much of this content out there for just one person to enjoy, unless you’re me and you’re obsessed with so-called “girlbosses” – a term born in the “Lean In” moment. ” by Sheryl Sandbergian for successful women in the corporate world, which became a joke when many of the so-called girl bosses turned out to be just as bad as the boy bosses – including, allegedly, the founder of “Nasty Gal” who popularized the phrase. It’s been zombified into a running internet joke in this post-Elizabeth Holmes moment and is generally half ambitious and half ironic.
This latest peak in the media wave of these stories, which occurred before COVID-19 hit, comes as America’s richest men have earned billions during a pandemic that has seen millions of women lose their jobs.
I’ve watched all of those shows and abused the journalism that spawned them (although I haven’t watched Showtime’s “Super Pumped,” about expelled Uber founder Travis Kalanick; to my knowledge, it doesn’t include many female bosses, has a lower Rotten Tomatoes rating than the three below, and requires a Showtime login which I don’t have).
Here are my thoughts on the Big Three, if you should watch them, and if you should believe them — because these shows, like the Girlfriends they’re about, have a tendency to twist the truth.
“Inventing Anna”, Netflix
Is it good? No.
Is it factual? No.
Is it girlboss? Yes.
“Inventing Anna” is heavily invented: Each episode begins with a tagline/disclaimer saying “This story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up. TV super-creator Shonda Rimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”) tells you leaves it to be decided whether this refers to the lies Anna Sorokin (Julia Garner, “Ozark”) tells New York’s elites as she convinces them she’s a German heiress, or to the show itself.
But it’s a double meaning. Although the story follows the rough shape of Sorokin’s young life, many of the characters are amalgamations of real people or from a whole fabric – notably, the colead, “Vivian Kent” journalist of the “Manhattan magazine” (Anna Chlumsky , “Veep”) based on New York magazine’s Jessica Pressler (this is the second time this has happened to Pressler, who wrote the inspirational story for the 2019 movie “Hustlers” and Julia Stiles played a fictionalized version of she). It allows Chlumsky’s character to do things an ethical journalist wouldn’t – tell Anna’s (Arian Moayed) lawyer she’s on their side, or break into Anna’s parents’ house. Anna in Germany – and the cumulative effect is worse when she does things Pressler does, like buying Anna clothes for court.
But where “Inventing Anna” emphasizes fidelity to real life, it’s boring, as in Garner’s uninventive portrayal of Anna. It’s a killer impression of Sorokin, according to Pressler and others who know the real Anna, it gives a killer performance upon arrival. A good impression never equates to good acting, and because Anna isn’t a public figure, we can’t say how good the impression is anyway – so it looks like a joke.
The result is a show that works hard to make Anna, who might be one of the friendliest girls on the list due to her ambitious underdog status, seem as unsympathetic as possible. and that ends on several unresolved notes.
“The Stall”, Hulu
Is it good? Yes.
Is it factual? Most.
Is it girlboss? Yes.
I can’t say much about “The Dropout” that hasn’t been said better – critics loved it the most of any of those shows, it’s pretty true to its namesake podcast and the book. John Carreyrou’s “Bad Blood” and Amanda Seyfried balances an OK impression of Elizabeth Holmes with a thoughtful take on the woman who wanted to be the next Steve Jobs.
But I think this show isn’t exactly great television, and a lot of that hesitation comes from showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether (“New Girl”) and her team’s propensity to amp up the real-life details of way hard to believe, in the service of dramatic effect.
In the end, when Holmes’ business collapses, she is kicked out of her ‘ empty seat by her former lawyer (Michaela Watkins) telling her she hurt people over and over again. It’s over the top and falls flat, as the character of Watkins – a fictional amalgamation of multiple lawyers – was right there alongside Holmes through it all. Carreyrou’s book, on the other hand, ends with Holmes presenting at a chemistry lecture, where she impresses with her characteristic persuasiveness, but at the end a single voice in the crowd shouts “You’re hurting people.” people”.
These puffy details serve to underscore the damage done by Holmes, but the series is lighter on the corporate and media culture that failed to catch up with her for so long and rewarded her false narratives.
“WeCrashed”, Apple TV+
Is it good? Not in the classic sense.
Is it factual? Sure.
Is it girlboss? Through the glass ceiling.
If you want a great show anchored by a good performance, you can stop reading – “The Dropout” is that show. But sue me: despite “WeCrashed” starting badly, ending questionably, and not being well written, I was more amused.
It has everything to do with the two protagonists, Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway, respectively Adam Neumann and Rebekah Paltrow Neumann. The internet has had a lot of fun hating Leto over the past year, from his Super Mario impression in “House of Gucci” to his starring role in “Morbius,” the most mocked superhero movie in years.
But playing Neumann – a deeply oblivious man who would have liked to become “president of the world” and aspired to live forever – Leto’s maximalist tendencies work. After all, we’re talking about an actor who is something of a cult leader himself. Rebekah on this show has enough boss energy for both of them, allegedly firing employees for “bad energy” and declaring herself to be the “soul of the company”.
Leto and Hathaway don’t make a good impression on the Neumanns, they riff, and watching their shared psychosis as their unicorn society’s false valuation soars into the billions feels more like a witty condemnation of laissez-faire capitalism than a story of business.
I think one of the reasons we’re obsessed with girlboss scam TV is much the same reason audiences of decades past loved seeing supposedly “promiscuous” women murdered in slasher movies, or during centuries past, burned at the stake to be witches: America likes to see a woman punished for seizing power. On TV and often in reality, women have less room to mess up in the corporate world anyway: ‘The Dropout’ in particular spends time focusing on how Holmes’ fraud will make it even harder for women in Silicon Valley. But it looks like the show is blaming Holmes for that.
“WeCrashed” is different. These two basically get away with big money – though the show tries to convince you otherwise with an eleventh-hour twist that ends its finale really badly – because it convinces you that the real problem here is not the people. It is the system that rewards them.