Love goes bad, for real, in Bravo’s ‘Dirty John’

The State (Sunday) - - Television Weekly - By Jay Bob­bin When love goes wrong, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily stay a se­cret ... es­pe­cially in the age of pod­casts.

Such a pro­gram is the in­spi­ra­tion for “Dirty John,” which be­comes the re­al­ity-heavy Bravo’s lat­est ven­ture into scripted drama when it pre­mieres the eight-episode se­ries Sun­day, Nov. 25. “Nashville,” “Fri­day Night Lights” and “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story” vet­eran Con­nie Brit­ton adds an­other show to her re­sume as a suc­cess­ful in­te­rior de­signer whose ro­mance with a doc­tor (Eric Bana) moves fast — to the def­i­nite dis­com­fort of her daugh­ters (Ju­lia Gar­ner, Juno Tem­ple).

The younger women de­cide to look into his back­ground, and what they learn about him makes them even more alarmed, and their mother more vul­ner­a­ble. Jean Smart also stars as the fam­ily ma­tri­arch, whose com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with her daugh­ter doesn’t help mat­ters.

In its orig­i­nal, popular form, “Dirty John” was devel­oped from Pulitzer Prize-win­ning Los An­ge­les Times jour­nal­ist Christo­pher Gof­fard’s ar­ti­cles about a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in tony New­port Beach, Calif. — which ex­panded for him into a probe of John Mee­han, the per­son played by Bana.

“I en­joy be­ing in the skin of some­one else,” says one-time movie “Hulk” Bana, “and it doesn’t bother me if they in­habit me more than they should, or stick around for a bit longer than they should. I think that’s a bit of a priv­i­lege. I re­ally like that feel­ing at the end of a pro­duc­tion when you find your­self still feel­ing some­thing about who you’re play­ing. So, (Mee­han is) wel­come to take over part of my brain for as long as I’m con­tracted.”

Brit­ton was able to con­sult with her real-life “Dirty John” coun­ter­part, De­bra Newell, and the ac­tress deems it “a very unique, priv­i­leged ex­pe­ri­ence” to talk with some­one she’s play­ing. “Also, it’s help­ing give so much insight into the story in a way that maybe we weren’t able to ex­pe­ri­ence in the pod­cast, and for me to re­ally have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what her ex­pe­ri­ence was and how she was pulled in by this guy is so im­por­tant. Ul­ti­mately, we’re telling the story of how a con man can be so ef­fec­tive, so it’s im­por­tant to make De­bra re­lat­able ... so that we can all see our­selves in her.”

“Dirty John” al­ready has an or­der for a sec­ond sea­son that will of­fer a dif­fer­ent story. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Alexan­dra Cun­ning­ham re­ports Sea­son 1 is “not go­ing to go past the end of the pod­cast. We want peo­ple to have the frame­work of that ex­pe­ri­ence.” Mean­while, fel­low ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Richard Suckle adds of Sea­son 2, “We’re just fig­ur­ing out what ex­actly that story should be, what we could do that would have sim­i­lar­i­ties, but also not feel like we’re just do­ing a re­peat.”

Eric Bana and Con­nie Brit­ton star in “Dirty John,” pre­mier­ing Sun­day on Bravo.

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