In the before-times, there would have been few options for alternative viewing on a Super Bowl (Sunday, NBC, CTV, 6:30 p.m.) weekend. But that was before streaming and, this year, there is also the fact of a big weekend at the Beijing Olympics.
One of the few storytellers whose work would be unleashed with confidence this weekend is Shonda Rhimes, whose track record as writer and producer includes Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Bridgerton, the latter her first production for Netflix. Her latest is more typical Rhimes than Bridgerton, which was loosely adapted from a series of novels by Julia Quinn.
Inventing Anna (streams Netflix) is a seething, funky drama, presented with a caveat, “This whole story is completely true. Except for all of the parts that are totally made up.” Which means it’s the bizarre story of Anna Delvey, aka Anna Sorokin (Julia Garner), known as “the fake heiress” since a 2018 New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler explained how Anna had conned her way upward in New York social circles. And then spent a lot of money that wasn’t hers and had, for years, gotten away with it.
Here, the starting point is watching reporter Vivian Kent (based on Pressler and played by Anna Chlumsky from Veep) see a news item about Anna and sensing there’s an intriguing story to be told. Her editors aren’t convinced and it isn’t really until Kent meets Anna in a prison interview, that she knows there’s a hugely significant narrative – not just the story of a clever grifter, but a series of entries into the world of the very rich and very shallow. Since Anna is an essentially inscrutable figure, but still the anchor of the story, what we get over the nine episodes is a series of flashbacks with Anna’s rise and perfidy seen from the perspective of various people who helped her or were scorched by her.
Garner is full-throttle as Anna, wielding an accent as strange as the character’s origins, and inhabiting a personality that’s both charming and menacing. Like other Netflix series, Inventing Anna can seem bloated and a bit slow, especially in the first three episodes. And Rhimes leans rather heavily on one theme: that men get away with what Anna did, with ease. A series with a dynamite central character, insight, wit and schlocky charm.
Also airing this weekend – Hidden Assets (starts Sunday, Super Channel, 9 p.m., and on demand from Monday) is a first-rate Irish crime drama series (it also aired on BBC and will be streamed later on Acorn), with Scandi-noir twists. During a raid on an Irish drug dealer’s home, Emer Berry (Angeline Ball), a detective with the Criminal Assets Bureau, finds not just money and drugs, but some diamonds and the deed to a property in Antwerp, Belgium. Meanwhile in Antwerp, there’s just been a horrific terrorist attack on a fashion show.
Berry goes to Antwerp and is obliged to work with a very wary local detective, Christian De Jong (Wouter Hendrickx). Her Irish wit and skepticism are at odds with his seriousness. But they bond and the solving of the puzzle of diamonds that link an Irish drug baron to terrorism and nefarious activity in the port of Antwerp is very nicely plotted. Engaging, taut and a very good, timely no-nonsense thriller series (in six parts, arriving weekly). It’s an excellent distraction.
Until Life Do Us Part (streams Netflix) is a rare entry from Portugal into Netflix’s international slate. A charming, eight-episode comedy/drama, it’s about three generations of a family running a wedding planning business. The Paixao family are like everybody else, with their small and major crises. It’s just they have to make weddings fun and romantic for a lot of people, some of whom are obviously totally unsuited for matrimony. It has a lovely gloss of melancholy on some very funny themes.
Much more serious is Owned: A Tale of Two Americas (Sunday, PBS on Independent Lens, 11 p.m.), a sobering look at how the U.S. housing market has been finagled by state and federal policy makers, and banks, to create non-white neighbourhoods that became areas of concentrated poverty.
Finally, Children Ruin Everything (Sunday, CTV, 10 p.m.) gets the special post-Super Bowl slot in Canada. Brace yourself for acid comedy about the beleaguered parents of very, very wearying kids.
On the Olympics front, it’s figure skating – ice dancing – free dance, on Sunday (the CBC main network, 10 p.m., followed by the women’s hockey semi-final match (the CBC, midnight).
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