The story of “Dirty” John Meehan and Debra Newell is one of those tales that prove Reality is stranger than fiction. A woman desperate for love after four failed marriages falling for a conman seems like an uncommon occurrence.
But Debra, who is obscenely rich, owns a successful business and is a mother of two spoilt daughters hardly fits the profile of the easily duped woman.
Despite constant warnings and red flags, Debra Newell fell for John hard and, in doing so, got stuck in his deep web. Adapted from the podcast of the same name, this true-crime series tells the tale of the destined to fail tinder box romance of John and Debra.
1. Quick Review
It is surprising to say this, but Dirty John is a better podcast than it is a show. The reason being that the story is very straightforward, and you know who the bad guy is from the get go.
From that point on, your only hook is to watch the ridiculous ease with which Debra falls into John’s trap.
The intrigue, warnings, and red flags that sound chilling and add mystery on a podcast are in plain sight in the series. The over-the-top romance fuelled by Debra’s excessive wealth is also dramatized in a story that needs no dramatization to be a strange one.
2. Is It Worth Watching?
Dirty John is a true-crime anthology series based on the podcast of the same name by Christopher Goffard. The show starts with a bloody montage and immediately sets the tone of what is to follow.
I. Is It A True Story?
Dirty John is the true heady tale of the fast and furious romance between Debra Newell and John Meehan. Debra, a rich interior designer who has four broken marriages and two spoilt children to her name, is still looking for love.
She desperately turns to online dating, where she meets John, an anaesthesiologist who is her knight in shining armor.
The two hit it off, and Debra ignores multiple red flags during the beginning of the relationship. John is the perfect man, bringing her breakfast in bed and running her hot showers. Despite the warnings by her two daughters, Veronica and Terra, the couple is married within months.
Debra loses all rationality and is completely devoted to John overlooking major flaws. When her children hire a PI to look into John’s past, he reveals that John is a career conman who has served several prison sentences.
We expect Debra to break away from John at this point, but she still clings to him, hoping that she will fix and change him. It gradually resolves into a situation between choosing between her family or John.
II. Cast & Performances
Connie Britton earned several award nominations for her portrayal of Debra Newell. Although the protagonist Debra is frustrating to watch and root for, as Debra ignores the multiple red flags which are laid out in front of her very eyes. She is torn between her desire for love, and you can feel her angst as she tries to cling to John and her daughters.
While the podcast offered a more subtle and emotional rendering of the story when you see it all acted out, one is forced to question Debra’s intelligence. Her ultra-rich lifestyle and her spoilt daughters also don’t make her very likable.
Eric Bana absolutely owns the role of the career conman preying on women, as John. He preys on their vulnerabilities and is a compulsive liar capable of talking his way out of sticky situations. Flashbacks from his childhood show how his father also scammed restaurants and people to make his living using John as a prop in his act.
His control of Debra is astonishing, and he shifts from suave to psychopath in an instant, an excellent casting choice.
Debra’s daughter’s Veronica (Juno Temple) and Terra (Julia Garner) are the characters the audience connects with the most. They are immediately suspicious of John and his motives and try to warn their mother. Their chemistry as sisters is also amazing.
Terra is the more subtle of the two and tries to give John a chance, but Veronica is overtly hateful towards him. Her hiring of a PI is what starts the unraveling of John’s story. Both of them give great performances and will be seen in many shows in the future.
3. The Second Season
The series has been given an anthology tag, and the second season titled Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story is currently airing. It focuses on the true story of Betty Broderick, who killed her husband, Dan, and his new wife, Linda, after getting a divorce.
Betty and Dan had a successful marriage with four kids, and eventually, some tensions cropped up between them. This culminated in Dan cheating on Betty with his assistance Linda. Theirs was one of the messiest in history and was spread out over five years.
During that time, Betty crashed her car in Dan’s house, spray painted his room, and smeared pie on his bed, among other things. Dan eventually filed a restraining order against her and was also paying her hefty alimony.
Season two focuses on the night when Betty snuck into Dan’s house and killed him and Linda while they were sleeping. The trial that followed and the aftermath are all in the show.
4. Final Thoughts
Christopher Goffard, whose storytelling kept us grounded in the story on the podcast, is missing from this show. The directors weave a web of past and present storylines, but it comes off as overly dramatic in the visual medium.
The acting is exceptional, and the script is strong. As far as true-crime series go, Dirty John is not that engaging because of its straightforward plot, which offers not many twists.