An extreme docuseries that well and truly exhausts the con artist craze. An unbelievable if repetitive tale of deception and defrauding in 21st century America.
This review of the Netflix true crime series Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. contains spoilers.
Netflix has moved on from an obsession with true crime murderers into the vogue arena of true crime con artists, a niche of the docuseries genre that is currently at the height of its popularity and with Bad Vegan may have just stepped into oversaturation. This four-part series tells the unbelievable true story of a restaurant owner, who embezzles millions when she falls for a mysterious scam artist.
Sarma Melngailis is the co-founder of vegan raw food restaurants Pure Food And Wine and One Lucky Duck, based in New York City. Her successful business was frequented by Hollywood A-Listers, including Owen Wilson, Alec Baldwin, and former President Bill Clinton. She was quite the celebrity in her own right, appearing in magazine articles and publishing her own books on veganism. The company was slowly growing into a profitable establishment until Shane Fox entered the scene.
Shane Fox aka Anthony Strangis makes the Tinder Swindler look like a reasonable chap. This is one of the most dislikeable con artists of our time and Netflix has given us plenty of examples of late. If you were angered by Simon Leviev (the Israeli conman) just wait until you meet this latest manipulative fraudster. Shane tells Sarma that he is a wealthy Navy Seal, who can make both them and her dog immortal, adding, that he has been in love with her for thousands of years. This ridiculous narrative only gets worse as the episodes trundle on. Viewers across the globe will be left screaming at their television screens over and over again.
The series becomes quite repetitive though and offers nothing new to the genre. This insane story feels like the perfect catch for Netflix, alongside The Tinder Swindler and Inventing Anna, yet there’s not much fun to be drawn from this tale of the paranormal, reincarnation, and immortal canines. It’s quite exhausting, especially with the incessant phone conversations, highlighting the psychological abuse Sarma endures. She may not be completely innocent herself though and director Chris Smith (Fyre and Operation Varsity Blues) seems unsure whether to label her as a victim or partly responsible for the whole saga.
Bad Vegan makes for further addition to the con artist oeuvre, with some intriguing plotting and a few genuine twists. Overall though, this feels like a needlessly long and repetitive series that tries to shock, without connecting with its audience. The story alone will keep viewers hooked right until the end, but this feels like a soulless sideshow, rather than a deep exploration of gaslighting and emotional abuse.
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