November 25, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Dirty John”


DIRTY JOHN:  Sunday 10PM on Bravo

Bravo recently finished a 2-season run of Imposters, the story of a con artist who seduced victims into marriage, only to steal all their money.  Clearly the network knows what it likes, because in Imposters’ stead we have Dirty John, which tells a story remarkably close to that one.  This time, though, the material is shaped for Prestige TV rather than a lighthearted romp, and it comes with the credentials of a hit LA Times podcast as its source material, and a cast that includes Connie Britton, Eric Bana, Juno Temple, Julia Garner and Jean Smart.  On the whole, though, based on the opening hour (of 8), Bravo might have gotten it closer to right the first time.

The pre-credits sequence of Dirty John informs us in fragments that the story is heading for a bloody end.  The initial hour, though, is so conventional as to approach dullness.  The Bravo series is created by Alexandra Cunningham, previously behind Hulu’s Chance and the short-lived US version of Prime Suspect, and it details the ill-fated decision of Orange County interior designer Debra Newell (Britton) to date anesthesiologist John Meehan (Bana).  John is good-looking and clearly too smooth for anyone’s good, but Debra is blind to the danger signals, even when her daughters Veronica (Temple) and Terra (Garner) send up instant and repeated semaphores.

The hour, directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair and Friday Night Lights, among many others), is handsomely shot, but it hits the same dramatic beats over and over.  John says or does something off-kilter, then covers it up, and one daughter or another warns Debra, but she’s so besotted with her new love that she brushes off the concern.  The characters are thinner than the performers playing them, and Temple’s whiny, spoiled role in particular is drawn so broadly that it brings to mind another Bravo signature piece, the Real Housewives franchise.  Debra, at least in the opener, is a rather pale protagonist for Britton to take on, with no rationale for her gullibility other than the fact that it’s tough for a four-times-married 50-year old woman to date.  Bana is capable but unsurprising as he drops hints of the monster John will no doubt become.  The chameleonic Garner is the only one who suggests some depths, very possibly beyond what was on the page.

The opening installment ends with Debra and John getting married two months after they met, and presumably the melodrama will now begin to ramp up.  With such familiar woman-in-jeopardy material, though, the kickass con woman of Imposters and her surprisingly resilient victims start to look rather appealing in retrospect.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."