Based on the true-crime podcast about sociopath John Meehan comes Dirty John, a drama thriller about how Debra’s (Connie Britton) life changes for the worst when she falls head over heels in love with the manipulative John Meehan (Eric Bana).
Dirty John doesn’t waste any time trying to convince you that John might not be as bad as he’s made out to be… I mean, it’s in the title. It gets things moving relatively quickly and holds quite a few surprises with how the story progresses. I enjoyed the overall overall story, however I didn’t love it. It’s a very up and down ride through the eight episode run with a few pacing issues weaving in and out of episodes. Sometimes things a moving swiftly or at a decent pace, but it occasionally drops and begins to drag at times. This is predominantly seen throughout the episodes that jump back and forth between the present and past. The transitioning isn’t handled smoothly and it’s jarring which makes trying to keep track of both stories a little tougher than it should be. The information delivered through the flashbacks is valuable to the story but it’s just not injected in a way that always fits well.
As a whole it’s the ‘true-crime’ vibe of the show that works best in keeping you engaged. Some parts of the series are certainly fabricated but it retains a tone that keeps it more in the ‘true crime’ world as oppose to the more sensationalised drama thriller world. With the characters is also where the series has its ups and downs. Debra’s daughters Terra Newell (Julia Garner) and Veronica Newell (Juno Temple) are two highlights of the series. Terra has her moments of being annoying but is fine for the most part. Veronica may be the best character in the series, mainly because she closely resembles what the audience is thinking more than any other character. Then you have Debra who is an okay protagonist. Part of the reason why she’s an okay character is because she’s frustrating to watch in her decision-making through the story, which is unfair because we as the viewer have more knowledge of events than she does.
The star of the show is John Meehan himself portrayed by a chilling Eric Bana performance that is a definite scene stealer. Forget the Aussie actor’s roles in Troy (2004), and Chopper (2000) because he completely transforms into this disturbing and creepy con-artist sociopath. He brings the creep-factor up to 11 but also can expertly switch between John’s darker side and his more charming side just as smoothly as any sociopath would do. Every line he utters has that duality to it and it only gets more and more unsettling the more we learn about him. His interactions with Connie Britton do make for some thoroughly engaging and occasional emotional sequences. Seeing the power dynamic between the two of them flip back and forth as their relationship takes turns leads to plenty of surprises that make the series a worthwhile watch.
As it nears the climax, I’d say it doesn’t quite nail a strong finish. It’s definitely a surprising finish but not nearly as heavy I thought it would have been.
Dirty John is a good series for sure. It has its moments where it drags and doesn’t quite weave its characters’ backstories into the pacing of the show well but the majority of it is enjoyable. That comes down to the characters, Eric Bana’s stellar performance, and the true-crime vibe it retains whilst still being a drama series. Fans of the true-crime genre and other drama thrillers similar to last year’s Netflix series You will get a good kick out of it so I’d recommend this one. Maybe check out the Netflix documentary Dirty John, The Dirty Truth afterwards to gain a better bearing on the true events.