Sunday, November 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'Dirty John' - Debra and John's Relationship Moves Very Quickly in the Early Going in 'Approachable Dreams'

Bravo's Dirty John - Episode 1.01 "Approachable Dreams"

Debra Newell has a seemingly perfect life: she's successful, beautiful and lives in one of California's most desirable coastal cities, Newport Beach. The only thing missing is love. So when Debra finally meets charming and handsome doctor John Meehan, she's quickly swept into a whirlwind romance, much to her daughters' dismay.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on the premiere of Bravo's Dirty John.

"Approachable Dreams" was written by Alexandra Cunningham and directed by Jeffrey Reiner

There are moments throughout this premiere were it seems like Bravo's new scripted drama Dirty John is more like a bad Lifetime movie than the next prestige thriller. That's very unfortunate considering this cast is insanely overqualified for that version of this story. The show is based on the wildly popular podcast from the Los Angeles Times' reporting of the relationship between Debra Newell and John Meehan and the subsequent police investigation. The transition to television means that the creative team was able to attract some A-list talent to the project. Connie Britton and Eric Bana are huge casting gets for the lead roles. Meanwhile, they are supported by Juno Temple, Julia Garner and Jean Smart elsewhere in the ensemble. However, this story doesn't feel all that original or compelling. There isn't a strong compulsion to keep watching to see just how all of this goes wrong. There is already that foreboding sense that every possible moment could turn sinister. It makes Debra seem incredibly naive and dim for not noticing all of the warning signs. That's not a position any character played by Connie Britton should be in. She is a phenomenal actress who only deserves the best material. This isn't it. Sure, she does her best to make Debra's insecurities and neediness the forefront of her decision making. She wants to believe that John is a good guy because he's the only charming person she has gone out on a date with in a long time. And yet, he also revealed his true self on that first date. She even noted that he was strange and weird afterwards. But her standards are apparently so low that she is willing to forgive everything simply because he shows some basic remorse for how he treated her. That highlights a pattern for Debra. Her daughters have significant damage in their own relationships because they've seen their mother in four marriages to guys who made them all put up with a lot. Debra can still articulate how all of these relationships went wrong. She is still encouraged to find happiness. And yes, that optimism is enviable. She does deserve to feel happy and attractive. She shouldn't be destroyed simply because she has made the wrong decisions on numerous occasions. She just doesn't have the proper tools to really address what led to her making these decisions in the first place. Right now, she is only focusing on how her eldest daughter Veronica is reacting to all of it. Debra is just choosing to believe that her children will dislike anyone that she brings home. Of course, they are objective enough to know that John isn't who he seems to be. That is taken one step further with the audience actually getting a glimpse into John's life as a doctor. Those signs are laughably bad because of just how blunt they are in depicting John as a monster who wishes to control and hurt women's bodies. It means that this becomes nothing more than a typical "women-in-peril" drama which is so formulaic and no longer compelling in the slightest. But all of this still ends with Debra and John getting married in Las Vegas. They do so impulsively after only knowing each other for eight weeks. That shows that Debra has a problem with impulse control. And yet, the show also wants to neatly separate how successful she is in business with how destructive she is in her personal life. It's a clear divide that has defined so many people and characters throughout the years. Here though, everything just feels too forced in order to make a point. There is no real sense of understanding or empathy. The audience is asked to judge without being able to do anything to change the situation before it takes that predictably deadly turn at some point.