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Dirty John - Approachable Dreams - Review: What's in the Safe, Kiddo?



Bravo is trying their hand at the scripted drama department again. This time they're bringing us Dirty John, a series based off of a podcast of the same name about the criminal life and exploits of John Meehan. Connie Britton stars as Debra Newell and Eric Bana as the eponymous John Meehan.

The first episode is directed by Jeffrey Reiner, whose previous directing credits include critically acclaimed shows like The Affair and Fargo. Alexandra Cunningham, who wrote more episodes of Desperate Housewives than any other writer for the show, is credited with writing this first episode.

We begin with a close look at Debra Newell. A businesswoman caught up in her job without much time to go out and meet anyone so she takes to the increasingly popular online dating pool. It's easy to see this is a woman who is adept and great at her job, as well as seemingly well liked give her rapport with coworker Nancy (Keiko Agena).

Britton is already going to be incredible in this role I can tell right away.


Poor Debra goes on her fair share of horrible dates between budding alcoholics, cheapskates, and a recent widow who can't stop comparing her nose wrinkles to his wife's. But when she finally gets a new date with John, things start to look up. Also I love the casting of Juno Temple as Newell's daughter, Veronica (she is based on Jacqueline Newell in real life, not sure why they changed her name). She looks very different in this role but her scene with Connie was a nice window into the nature of their relationship.

Either way, when John does finally make his grand appearance, Veronica doesn't look impressed. Unlike her mother. Debra is instantly charmed by John over dinner and drinks at the bar that extend well into the night and she winds up bringing him home with her. Things look all set to turn into a fun romp for the duo but it doesn't happen quite like that.

Instead, when Debra goes to freshen up in the bathroom John lays down on her bed. She's immediately unsettled. I'm guessing she feels some emotional connection to a prior husband? Or maybe she just doesn't want a man she met a few hours ago in her personal bedroom yet, which is understandable. Either way, she coaxes John into the living room but he doesn't listen to her and when he finally does, he gets up and immediately walks out of the apartment without so much as a goodbye. Weird.

For me, that would have been the only red flag I need. It signals major control issues. Plus I'd be unnerved at how quick this guy can flip on a dime from swoon-worthy to savage.

But if Debra took that sign for what it was and closed the door on John forever, well we wouldn't have a show now would we? So next comes the inevitable, a phone call from John. He says all the right things and essentially offers a perfect apology by being humble and self-deprecating. By the time he gets to the end of his soliloquy we all know Debra will give him another chance. Although even in the beginning of his monologue he makes it seem like Debra did something wrong. "I'm not asking you to defend yourself." Defend herself against what, John? She didn't do anything wrong! The manipulation has already begun.

Take two: Their next date goes just as well as the first one except this time John controls himself when they get back to Debra's door. He wants to be "the man he should have been" the last time they were in this same scenario. We'll see how long that lasts.


Skip to a therapy session between Debra and Veronica. I'm guessing this is in the same timeline and not a flashback o flash-forward given the way they talk about John's relationship is that it's fresh. Interesting though, for Ronnie and her mother to be in therapy together. They have a complicated relationship, which is interesting since we found out Debra has several other children. I wonder what it is that makes her and Veronica so combative with one another? Perhaps because they're somewhat similar? Debra has also had four other marriages before John, which explains why Veronica is so hesitant about letting another man into their lives. Her attitude may be sour but she does have reason to be concerned and in this case, we know it's going to turn out she was right.

From that point, things escalate fast. John is incredibly sneaky, and someone who is as over-the-moon infatuated as Debra clearly is might miss the signs, but he always finds an excuse, a loophole, a reason to get out of footing the bill. John plants the idea of renting a beautiful new Bayfront property for the two of them to move in together, effectively getting Veronica out from under her roof and allowing her to stay in the hold apartment and one less person snooping around for him to worry about.

One line Debra says, quoting her therapist, "if you feel like you're playing tug-of-war, just drop the rope," seems indicative of future moments in the show in addition to indicative of their mother/daughter relationship.

We get a chance to meet Terra (Julia Garner), Debra's other daughter, when she comes to visit her mother for Thanksgiving and has a strange run-in with John. She and her friend Jimmy arrive before their expected time and John isn't happy about it. He gives them a rude send-off and when they come back to the house later, he's too busy playing video games to give them much notice at all. Debra, yet again, seems mostly unfazed by this but Terra is uncomfortable as she worms her way out of lingering for too long by going to her sister's (new) apartment instead of hanging out with her mother.


Can I just say I love the casting of this show but especially Juno Temple and Julia Garner, both excellent actresses, as sisters? They do excellent with Alexandra Cunningham's dialogue too. I can hear the ghosts of Wisteria Lane in their scenes the most. But also adding Connie to that trifecta makes for compelling television.

After hanging out with her sister, Terra decides to do some snooping into John's things to see if he really is who he claims. Debra catches her and this results in a meltdown on Terra's part. I honestly expected John to have a stronger reaction but he mostly remained level-headed, a smart move on his part. Except for the slip of implying Terra, or kids in general, should be slapped for disobeying. We do get to see how under her daughter's control Debra is though. John has a point about her lack of ability to say no to them, although I know that in real life, it was due to their snooping John was even discovered in the first place. But she's a pushover when it comes to her kids.

Terra winds up leaving in tears, I can't see any of them coming back from that outburst any time soon. Given what happened, she doesn't want to attend Thanksgiving, something Veronica doesn't understand. Terra can't believe she's still going, "I can't believe you can't believe it." Pretty much sums it up.

Also worth mentioning we meet Trey (Supernatural's Jake Abel) at the dinner, Debra's son (in real life "Trey" is actually her eldest daughter Nicole, another alteration in the fictional retelling).

At the dinner, John confronts Veronica and tries to smooth things over but she's not taking the bait so easily. Nothing really gets solved between the two of them.

John and Debra take an impromptu trip to Vegas, essentially she lets him tag along on a business trip and they wind up having a shotgun wedding. Yep. John is officially Husband No. 5 for Mrs. Newell, I mean Meehan, (she'll use Newell for work and Meehan for everything else!)

It took only 8 1/2 weeks for John to cement himself in Debra's life and it's all downhill from here.

Also worth mentioning, I'm a little confused about John's subplot with his anesthesiologist job. His patient with ovarian cancer is post-op and in immense pain when the episode ends. Apparently he didn't give her pain medication? I may have just missed something but I did some research on the real case and apparently he was addicted to painkillers so I'm assuming he stole the medicine instead of actually giving it to the patient which is absolutely monstrous.

EXTRAS


Favorite Line: "Why don't you just shut up and worry about shaving your stupid poodle feet, god damn."

Performer of the Week: This is going to be tough to pick every week! Connie Britton, in my opinion, is the absolute star of the show already, she's an incredible actress. However, this week I'm going to give it to Eric Bana just because I think he has the most to do in this episode. We have to understand John is a bad guy, but also understand why Debra might be willing to fall for him and ignore some of the red flags and I think he manages to pull that off quite well. He's charming, but there's also a sleaziness to him and an obvious undercurrent of aggression. He can turn sinister with the flip of a switch but he is also sexy and passionate, Bana is able to walk the fine line between the two.

Creepiest John Moment: "What's in the safe, kiddo?" Was a pretty creepy moment for me, just because I didn't expect him to pop up at that moment and I'm sure he scared the hell out of Veronica. I feel like those purses might go "missing" some time this season.

Best Scene: I could watch Juno Temple and Julia Garner go back and forth for hours so I loved their sisterly bonding moment and Veronica's combative usage of the blender to drown Terra out. They're super fun to watch together.

A NEW EPISODE OF "DIRTY JOHN" WILL PREMIERE DECEMBER 2ND @ 10:00 PM EST ON BRAVO.


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