'Dirty John' review: Sorry Bravo, you're not conning anyone
'Dirty John's first chapter called 'Approachable Dreams' has John Meehan's character matching the podcast to the tee but alas! if only cargo pants were enough to make a conman.
After setting the internet abuzz for the last couple of weeks, Bravo's 'Dirty John' finally made its premiere this weekend. Based on the hit podcast of the same name by Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard, the story follows a con man from Southern California who latches on to an affluent and naive woman with the full intention of sucking her dry. The real-life story of John Meehan and Debra Newell is the stuff made of nightmares - or at least it was, on the podcast.
Bravo's adaptation of the terrifying story appears to be lackluster at best. The first chapter of the eight-episode series called 'Approachable Dreams', is so watered down, it almost feels like Connie Britton and Eric Bana, the two leads for the show, don't even want to be in the frame. It is a pretty disappointing episode for the premiere, especially since the story is so meaty - it literally needs nothing else.
Perhaps it was 'Desperate Housewives' fame Alexandra Cunningham's take to stick as close to the real story as possible, which would explain why her characters seemed very regular. It could have been a creative decision to make them look as inconspicuous as possible. It certainly is a great idea, but unfortunately, it doesn't translate from her mind to the screen - it just is as drab as a bowl of cereal-less milk.
The first episode of any show is as important as the last - Primetime Emmy nominee Cunnigham should know that. It must pack a punch, leave an impression, especially when it has such a huge fan following already. There's something very confusing about the way Meehan comes into the scene. All of Newell's dates, that we see in flashbacks were almost the same - sexist, annoying and couldn't stop talking about themselves. Meehan is no different - he talks about his job non-stop too. He scores average on charming - nothing great. So why did Newell think this guy is different? Because he walked her to her door? The episode conveniently forgets to connect dots like these. For a story as captivating and creepy as 'Dirty John' key details like this are expected to be emphasized - oh well.
'Approachable Dreams', its first chapter in the anthology is not just a let down in terms of the story flow but also in terms of being a thriller. If we didn't already know about Goffard's original investigation, would the show have appealed to us as a standalone Bravo original? Highly doubtful. It probably wouldn't have people tuning in again, simply because of just how not captivating it is. The chapter has Meehan's character matching to a tee to the podcast but alas! if only cargo pants were enough to make a conman. John's intentions are too obvious right from the beginning - it's like he's not even trying to con Newell! No thrills here, sorry.
Veronica Newell and Terra, Debra's daughters also don't have much to do in 'Approachable Dreams'. In real life, they were a crucial part of bringing Meehan down. Unfortunately, the premiere does nothing to establish their love for their affluent mama. Instead, Veronica comes across as a dumb brat who only cares about handbags and Terra as the baby who is easily manipulated by just about everyone.
It is perhaps understandable and even forgivable to a certain extent if the show doesn't match the podcast in terms of flaws in storytelling and differences in creative choices. However, 'Dirty John' makes a cardinal sin - it dumbs an impeccable piece of reportage and turns it into something that has nothing to say.
Let's hope the next chapter gives us a bit more of the story. 'Dirty John' brings its next chapter on December 2 on Bravo.