Does Bravo’s ‘Dirty John’ Live Up to Its True Crime Inspiration?

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The true crime story of "Dirty John" is a good reminder to look into your new partner's background before you get too serious.
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Bravo’s Dirty John just premiered on November 25, and it’s already got people buzzing.

The show, adapted from the popular true crime podcast of the same name, is a fictionalized version of the very real story of Debra Newell, a wealthy divorcee who fell for a seemingly perfect man with a troubling past.

The eponymous “Dirty John” is John Meehan (Eric Bana), who met and wooed Newell (Connie Britton) through an online dating site. Their whirlwind romance led to a quick marriage, but Newell’s children were convinced their mother’s new love wasn’t the man he seemed to be. Criminal records, lies, and other disturbing red flags were soon uncovered, leading to a terrifying and violent ordeal for Newell and her family.

Where is Debra Newell Now?

Before it was a Sunday night television drama, Dirty John was a Los Angeles Times article series and a six-part podcast by journalist Christopher Goffard. The podcast was a sensation (it’s been downloaded more than 30 million times), but how does Debra Newell feel about having her personal trauma broadcast to the world?

The woman behind this true crime story has taken her publicity in stride. Two years after her family’s ordeal, Newell says she’s moving on from her past. Though her relationship with her children was severely strained by her marriage to Meehan and the ensuing events, they are all healing and are now “closer than ever.”

Newell hopes that by sharing her story, she “can help other women in unhealthy relationships,” reports Bustle.

“John Meehan might have changed Newell’s life, but he in no way ruined it,” Bustle author Jordan Lauf wrote. “In this story, it’s the women who come out on top.”

What Critics and Audiences Say About Bravo’s ‘Dirty John’

Dirty John has been received with mixed reviews from critics, with CNN calling the Bravo adaptation “more mundane” than its print and podcast predecessors, “perhaps because women being manipulated by lying, no-good men is such a familiar staple of the fact-based drama.” Reviewer Brian Lowry did praise the casting choices, though, noting that Britton and Bana’s performances “elevate the material” and “make the series watchable … even if it doesn’t feel particularly distinctive or special.”

Variety’s Caroline Franke is more optimistic about the series, but says that, at present, Dirty John hasn’t gone beyond a beat-for-beat rehash of the original source material.

“There are so many opportunities to flesh out both John’s story and the complicated and tragic Newell family history, and so far, the show eschews them in order to keep plugging away at the story as once written,” Franke wrote.

Are You Dating a Dirty John?

Unfortunately, Debra Newell’s situation is not entirely uncommon. While your new lover might not be salacious as Dirty John, plenty of people are deceitful on dating apps and may misrepresent themselves to get what they want from you.

If you feel like you’re falling fast because your new love interest seems too good to be true, it’s wise to run a background check on them to uncover any shady details before things get too serious. And remember, if your friends and family don’t like your partner, they may be on to something. Listen to their concerns and make sure you’re not too blinded by new romance to see the red flags.

Catch Bravo’s Dirty John on Sunday nights at 10/9 C.

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