Being rich and successful as an interior designer made it seem like Debra Newell had everything, but in reality, she did not. She was missing something very important in her life- love. Bravo’s scripted series, Dirty John, based on the real-life events surrounding the single mother looking for a life partner through online dating is captivating and disturbingly good.
Connie Britton (American Horror Story) acts as the stunning Debra Newell and also executive produces the series. She lives in the upscale, gorgeous Newport Beach with her three grown children, nearby as well is a nephew and her mother. She soon meets anaesthesiologist John Meehan (Eric Bana) who shows up for their first date looking like a ‘homeless, frat boy’ characterised by her mouthy, spoiled daughter, Veronica (Juno Temple). Both Connie and John connect in all ways on their first date, but John becomes a little too familiar with her bedroom and she asks him to leave. He apologizes the next day and begins to spin a web of lies around Debra, who seems to be easy prey for him.
Their relationship blooms and within an alarmingly short amount of time, they are living together and secretly married. Debra’s other daughter, Terra (Julia Garner) floats in and out of the picture but the message is clear- everyone around Debra is concerned that things are moving way too fast to not be concerned.
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Viewers are shown various snippets of therapy sessions with Debra and each of her daughters, who come across as entitled rich brats with squeaky high sing songy voices that truly only a mother could love. Veronica, or Ronnie, as she is affectionately called by her mother, has a safe in her room filled with designer purses that she keeps locked away as her prized possessions, only to remove one at a time to go out, to where one doesn’t know; she doesn’t seem to have a job or do anything but look fabulous and cast shade on her mother’s new boyfriend. Terra, on the other hand, has aspirations of being a veterinarian but works in a pet store and never goes anywhere without her trusted sidekick, Cash, who is an adorable Mini Australian Shepherd dog.
Where this series shines though, after the second episode concludes, it is obvious the jig is up and Meehan is out of tricks with Debra who has caught on to the whole escapade, but instead of calling it quits, she attempts to forgive him and allow him the space to change. Mostly being encouraged by her mother, Arlane Hart, with a stand out performance by Jean Smart, Arlane has her own demons from another daughter being brutally murdered by a husband who couldn’t let go and a deep-rooted faith in the church. It is a perfect storm for Debra, who is being told that forgiveness and love will conquer all, coupled with her four previous failed marriages, and the awful fear to grow old alone drives her to keep this con man in her life.
The next episodes bounce around between John’s childhood, his life before Debra, and present time. One comes to understand John’s troubling beginning, trying to impress a father that was only interested in scamming anyone and everyone to make a quick buck. It is this need to please his father that ultimately causes his lifelong addiction to pain killers due to the fact he would throw himself in front of cars for his father to extort money from the unsuspecting drivers.
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The sordid affair sorts itself out nicely by the end, however, not without a gruesome nail-biting final scene that will leave your jaw on the floor. There are plenty of moments that will have viewers scratching their preverbal heads that a person as successful and obviously intelligent as Debra could be so duped by some scruff and a full head of hair who just happens to like to wear scrubs every day. This feels like a testament to how desperate single women truly feel, especially in their golden years. However, social commentary aside, this whole series is non-stop action and suspenseful drama that most will not be able to stop once started.
The audience is kept on edge throughout the whole ominous tale leaving one to wonder- does she manage to get away with her life, her money, her dignity, and her children? One must watch to see to believe this one, since in this case the truth is definitely stranger than fiction could ever be.
Dirty John is now available on Netflix in the UK.