From the outset, Dirty John appears to be about living the high life and finding love in the state of California. Debra Newell is a successful interior designer who runs her own company and is looking for love through online dating, after multiple failed marriages. Connie Britton (from American Horror Story fame) portrays Debra as best as anyone who is playing a beautiful, obscenely rich, incredibly naive and vulnerable person could do.
But Dirty John is in fact a retelling of a true crime story, based on the podcast of the same name by Christopher Goffard. It displays the lengths at which one person would go to destroy someone else’s life. Along with the chaos of secrets, lies and consequences.
Enter the titicular character
John Meehan is a charming and manipulative sociopath who pretends to be an anaesthesiologist, but is really a conman with a history of seducing and deceiving women. It makes me a bit sad that Eric Bana (from The Time Traveler’s Wife and Troy fame) is better at playing a strangely attractive but also creepy antagonist, than he is at playing a hero (cue the Hulk flop).
That said, Eric Bana plays this role frightfully well – and has you sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting anxiously to see how each lie will unfold.
Occasionally the plot gets a bit lost in the mundaneness of everyday rich people problems, and seemingly perfect marital bliss – but then Dirty John is up to his tricks again.
The series first aired in the USA in late November 2018, and later became available internationally on Netflix, during mid February 2019. Having received mixed and positive reviews, it has managed to garner recognition at a number of award ceremonies, including the Golden Globes.
True crime has been gaining ground onscreen for sometime now, with interest in shows such as The Jinx and Making a Murderer, but Dirty John is portrayed as more of a drama than a pure retelling.
Although I have not heard the podcast series, I found the TV series to be quite intriguing. It also pulls at the heartstrings when it shows the struggles Debra faces, between the strained dynamics of her family and the man she falls so hard for. What ensues is almost unthinkable – but if anything, Dirty John brings attention to the dangers of manipulative relationships and teaches us to be more careful of the company we keep.
I’m interested to see what will be revealed in Season 2!