The newest craze in Hollywood seems to be creating television series based on scandalous magazine articles. From Netflix’s Inventing Anna to Hulu’s The Dropout, Hollywood has found its latest obsession: true crime. Unlike those shows, however, Bad Vegan doesn’t craft a fictional story. Instead, it opts to use the real people to tell everything about this scandal, and it’s ultimately a decision that pays off.
While Inventing Anna and The Dropout are both entertaining in their own right, despite the former being an utter mess in its depiction of the victims, they offer a sometimes fictional take on the scandals. The four episodes of Bad Vegan do not allow for a fictitious and entertaining take on the Pure Food & Wine scandal. Sarma Melngailis, who was once deemed the Queen of Vegan, had a fast rise and fall at Pure Food & Wine, and despite everything that happened, she willingly sits down to tell the story from her perspective. Naturally, though, her take on what happened is told with a veil of sorts, as while open, Melngailis, is not truly reliable in her telling of the events.
Like The Dropout, Melngailis isn’t the lone party responsible for what ultimately results in her downfall. There is a man involved and, honestly, he’s one of the more frustrating bits of the story. Just as Melngailis is riding the high of Pure Food & Wine, with her raw vegan restaurant taking over, she meets a man who will ruin it all. How he meets him — and just how Alec Baldwin is involved — are fascinating because you want to believe there’s truly no way someone like Melngailis could fall for him… and yet, she does. There are red flags galore from the moment they connect, but she’s so desperate to believe in him, she’s blinded by the thought of love. What’s worse, however, is that when she does finally begin to question things about him, she still decides to stay.
Melngailis does many things that are questionable during their relationship and, with just four episodes, it’s not easy to present a fair painting of everything that would eventually unfold. The series does its best to make use of its limited time, and for the most part it does; it wastes no time setting up her rise, but seems to spend little time on how everything falls apart. It’s the one issue with such a limited timeframe to tell such a massive story. In fact, five episodes probably would have benefited the story a heck of a lot more. This is simply because the final episode has to unwrap so much, that by the end, its frustrating where the story leaves off.
For those unfamiliar with the scandal behind Pure Food & Wine, like myself, there’s no denying this is an easy to devour documentary series. The whole ordeal is just as fascinating as it is morally wrong. Melngailis is an uncomfortable narrator. She’s often stiff and careful with how she chooses her words. It’s clear she wants to tell the whole story, but there’s also a part of her that seems eager to put it behind her from the moment she begins speaking. The use of the other parties in the series, though, to tell their take on everything is a smart move because they are far more open and honest. It’s why this format works much better than the fictional takes on scandals we’ve seen courtesy of Inventing Anna and The Dropout. As absurd as those stories both are, the story told in Bad Vegan is one that is hard to believe at first. The false promises, the deception, the fraud and the corruption? It’s absolutely fascinating to watch unfold with each new interview and episode.
All in all, Bad Vegan is a limited series to add to your Netflix queue. It’s one of the better takes on a scandal such as this one, and with just four episodes, it’s easy to burn through. For those looking to get lost in a world full of money, celebrity, cuisine and immortality — give Bad Vegan a chance. Just remember, everything you’re seeing on screen did happen, no matter how crazy it all sounds. It’s a heck of a ride, but it’s worth it in the end.