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Recommended: Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. on Netflix

The celebrity restaurateur whose empire went off the rails tells all to Fyre Fraud director Chris Smith.
  • Sarma Melngailis was celebrated for founding New York's first upscale raw and vegan eatery in 2004, only to land on Riker's Island a few years later. (Photo: Netflix)
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    Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. | Netflix
    True Crime Docuseries (Four Episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. About?

    Sarma Melngailis was proprietor of one of the hottest eateries on the planet and had global ambitions. Then she married the wrong guy.

    Who's Involved?

    Netflix docuseries are dependably must-watch affairs, usually because a director gets the most out of their interview subjects. Bad Vegan is no exception. The story is told through the captivating, candid, occasionally unreliable voice of its enigmatic central figure, Sarma Melngailis. Her NYC raw vegan eatery Pure Food and Wine opened in 2004 and became a favorite of the jet set. But as we soon learn, Melngailis's business savvy didn't carry over to personal relationships. An introvert with few close friends, she was vulnerable to the advances of a smooth-talking man with a bit of mystery — and that’s where her life slowly went off the rails.

    Director Chris Smith’s previous effort for Netflix, Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, was notable for Smith’s interview with Fyre Festival event producer Andy King, in which he got King to admit on camera that he was prepared to offer a Bahamian customs official oral sex in exchange for a shipment of bottled water to Fyre’s thirsty attendees. King later begged Smith to remove the scene, to which the director reportedly said, “Andy, you don’t understand. Without that scene, there isn't a documentary.”

    Sadly or not, that's what the Netflix audience wants, and Smith brings the same knack for entertaining insights to Bad Vegan. In addition to Melngailis, he interviews former Pure Food and Wine employees and those who knew the backstory of her eventual husband.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    If you liked Tiger King, then you’re going to like Bad Vegan. (Smith was a producer on the former.) Well-paced and efficient, Bad Vegan sucks you into Melngailis’s personal drama and keeps you there. Thanks to her habit of recording phone calls with her beau, we learn a lot about him, even though he did not consent to being interviewed for the series. Smith respects the audience and Melngailis by not treating her as a victim, but as a gifted, generous person whose lack of introspection eventually got her and the people she cared for into serious trouble.

    Pairs well with

    • LuLaRich (Prime Video), another docuseries about a business that grew rapidly but was run by morally suspect people who thought nothing of enrolling thousands of loyal followers in a legalized pyramid scheme.
    • Beanie Mania (HBO Max), which also has great interviews with the people at the heart of one of the greatest frenzies in retail history.

  • Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.
    All four episodes premiere on Netflix Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
    Starring: Sarma Melngailis, Anthony Strangis, Bonnie Crocker, Andrew Elliott, Nikki King Bennett, Nick Ros, Sheila Tendy, Nazim Seliakhov, Maiquen Saez-Vega, Ilze Melngailis, John Melngailis, Jeffrey Chodorow, Stacy Strangis, Joey Repice, Dustin Hall, and Allen Salkin.
    Directed by: Jim Switzer and Chris Smith.

    TOPICS: Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives., Netflix, Allen Salkin, Andrew Elliott, Anthony Strangis, Bonnie Crocker, Chris Smith, Dustin Hall, Ilze Melngailis, Jeffrey Chodorow, Jim Switzer, Joey Repice, John Melngailis, Maiquen Saez-Vega, Nazim Seliakhov, Nick Ros, Nikki King Bennett, Sarma Melngailis, Sheila Tendy, Stacy Strangis