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From ‘The Dropout’ to ‘The Tinder Swindler,’ your guide to TV’s most notorious scammers

Amanda Seyfried as Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu's “The Dropout.” (Beth Dubber/Hulu) ( Beth Dubber/Beth Dubber/Hulu)
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That mix of charisma, misguided ambition, nostalgia and greed emanating from our TV screens can only mean one thing: grifter season is upon us again. (Also, “Succession” is on hiatus.) Several recent and upcoming TV shows tackle the stories of disgraced fraudsters including Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes; Simon Leviev, the catfishing con-man at the center of “The Tinder Swindler”; and Anna Sorokin (a.k.a. Anna Delvey), who convinced wealthy New Yorkers that she was of similar means while ostensibly trying to fund a multimillion dollar social club for art aficionados.

From documentaries to fictionalized miniseries, there are so many new scammer stories on the tube that you might find it hard to keep track — let alone decide which to watch. Here is a guide to the buzziest retellings TV has to offer.

Scripted

“The Dropout”

Amanda Seyfried lowers her voice dramatically to play Holmes, the Stanford University dropout who founded Theranos, a biotech company that purported to have developed a revolutionary blood-testing device. Theranos, once valued at $9 billion, collapsed after the Wall Street Journal published an investigation into increasing questions surrounding the accuracy of the company’s tests. (Adam McKay’s forthcoming Apple TV Plus movie, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as the discredited mogul, is based on reporter John Carreyrou’s book about the scandal.)

Hulu’s eight-part series, created by Elizabeth Meriwether (“New Girl”), is based on the podcast by ABC News journalist Rebecca Jarvis. It charts Holmes’s rise and fall, while exploring the sources of her Silicon Valley ambitions. “The Dropout” has garnered generally positive reviews, with particular praise for Seyfried — who goes all-in on replicating Holmes’s weirdness (one scene finds her dancing toward a Steve Jobs poster in a display that borders on liturgical) — and Naveen Andrews, who plays her ex-boyfriend and alleged co-conspirator Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The show, which dropped Thursday, also features William H. Macy and Laurie Metcalf as part of its ensemble cast. The real-life Holmes, meanwhile, awaits sentencing after her conviction on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud against investors.

Two new shows chronicle the fall of Theranos and rise of Uber — and tally the human cost of tech greed

“Joe vs. Carole”

SNL’s master impressionist Kate McKinnon goes up against John Cameron Mitchell in Peacock’s take on the feud between big-cat conservationist Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic, the former private zoo owner who was convicted of trying to kill Baskin in a murder for hire plot, along with a slew of federal wildlife violations. Kyle MacLachlan plays Baskin’s husband, Howard.

Both McKinnon and Mitchell give dutiful performances as the eccentric personalities, but the consensus among critics is that “Joe vs. Carole” — released more than two years after Netflix first spotlighted the rivalry in the widely watched “Tiger King” docuseries — is just too late to add any meaningful insight to the bizarre and ethically turbid saga.

“Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt channels his inner tech bro as Uber founder Travis Kalanick in the first round of David Levien and Brian Koppelman’s Showtime biz anthology. “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” traces the growth of the ride-sharing service and Kalanick’s scandal-plagued tenure as its CEO (he resigned in 2017). The eight-episode series, based on Mike Isaac’s book of the same name, also features Uma Thurman and Kyle Chandler.

“Overwritten and initially plagued with tonal issues, the seven-part drama follows the fictionalized Travis as he grows his fledgling start-up from a scofflaw David to a villainous Goliath,” Washington Post TV critic Inkoo Kang wrote in her review of the show. “But ‘Super Pumped’ is most compelling as a study of how one individual at the top can create a noxious office culture — one so rancid it eventually looks like corporate suicide.”

“Inventing Anna”

Jessica Pressler’s viral story about Anna Delvey, the Russian-born woman who posed as a wealthy German heiress while living an extravagant Manhattan lifestyle, gets the Shondaland treatment with Julia Garner playing Delvey and Anna Chlumsky playing a journalist loosely based on Pressler. “Inventing Anna” is as splashy as any Shonda Rhimes production, leaning into the outrageousness of Delvey’s antics — which included talking her way onto a private jet without paying and somehow landing a $100,000 loan without providing any evidence that she could pay it back.

The nine-part series has been in Netflix’s Top 10 list since shortly after it premiered last month, but reviewers have been less enthusiastic. Kang called the show “about as flavorful as a box of Cheerios.”

The real story of ‘Inventing Anna,’ Netflix’s show about the fake heiress who scammed the rich and powerful

“WeCrashed”

This upcoming Apple TV Plus series based on the Wondery podcast of the same name stars Anne Hathaway and a heavily made-up Jared Leto as Rebekah and Adam Neumann, the power (hungry) couple behind WeWork. The once highly valued co-working space start-up saw plummeting profits in 2019 amid scandal over the company’s unconventional corporate culture and massive debts. Reviews for the show, which drops March 18, aren’t in yet, but critiques for Leto’s attempt at Neumann’s Israeli accent are so far pretty tepid — though it’s hard to imagine it turning out worse than his widely mocked “House of Gucci” voice, a role in which he was also unrecognizable. America Ferrera and O-T Fagbenle also star.

Documentary

“The Tinder Swindler”

This popular Netflix offering details the dirty deeds of Shimon Hayut, who conned multiple women into sending him money — allegedly to the collective tune of $10 million — after meeting them on Tinder. He has since been banned from the dating app. His victims say Hayut pretended to be the heir of a real-life diamond mogul who is now suing him, as People magazine reported. Director Felicity Morris gives Hayut’s victims a compassionate platform to share their heartbreak and cautionary tales in the feature-length doc.

How to avoid falling for a Tinder swindler or a fake German heiress

“Bad Vegan”

This forthcoming Netflix docuseries unpacks the bizarre story of Sarma Melngailis, who built a raw vegan empire in New York beloved by the culinary world and celebrities alike, before meeting and marrying con man Anthony Strangis. The four-part series from Chris Smith (one of the producers behind “Tiger King”) details how Strangis siphoned money from Melngailis and her businesses, using the transfers for tests he claimed would ensure prosperity for both of them as well as immortality for Melngailis’s beloved dog, Leon. (Yes, you read that right).

The pair ended up dodging angry investors, employees and authorities while on the run for months, in a misadventure that ended with police locating them thanks to a non-vegan Domino’s pizza order. Melngailis, who ultimately served just under four months for grand larceny and fraud in a plea deal, has since said she was gaslighted and psychologically abused by Strangis. “Bad Vegan” is full of characters and strangely absorbing, but in a tale full of unreliable narrators, it’s not a straightforward retelling.

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