If you were seeking a feel-good romantic comedy this Thanksgiving weekend, Lifetime and Hallmark had you covered with more than a dozen holiday-themed love stories.
Bravo, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach to romance. The cable net on Sunday debuted Dirty John, a TV-series adaptation of the Los Angeles Times podcast that tells of a real-life relationship gone very, very wrong.
Connie Britton stars as Debra Newell, a wealthy interior designer from California who has already endured four failed marriages. When we meet Debra on Sunday’s series premiere, she’s waded into the online-dating waters, though all of the men she’s gone out with so far have been duds. He’s an alcoholic! He’s still hung up on his ex! He’s a condescending lawyer! Pass, pass, pass.
Enter John Meehan (Hulk‘s Eric Bana), a good-looking, deeply charismatic anesthesiologist who is instantly smitten with Debra — and vice versa. But John doesn’t make quite as excellent a first impression on Debra’s older daughter, Veronica aka Roni (Vinyl‘s Juno Temple): She’s immediately turned off by his casual attire — “Are you delivering a package?” Roni asks when John shows up for his first date with Debra — and she quickly assesses him as a creep and a gold digger.
Debra ignores her daughter’s concerns, and she’s even enabled by her therapist, who urges Debra to find happiness in whatever form that takes for her, given her complicated romantic past. And as the premiere shows us via dreamy, sun-drenched montages, Debra is finding endless happiness with John — and boy, is he smooth. After their first date ends on a sour note (he angrily bails on Debra when she reveals she doesn’t want to have sex so quickly), he calls her the next day and delivers a charmingly self-deprecating apology for acting the way that he did.
Moved by his honesty, Debra decides to give him a second chance, and things move dangerously quickly from there. After just a few dates, John tells Debra he loves her. At the five-week mark, they move in together at a gorgeous beachfront property. After eight-and-a-half weeks, they decide to elope during Debra’s work trip to Las Vegas.
Naturally, on a series called Dirty John, there are a number of John-related red flags that go up during the show’s first hour — none of which, unfortunately, are enough to convince Debra to break things off with him. (If you’re familiar with the podcast, you know that the real-life Debra was also frustratingly clueless when it came to John, and Britton does an excellent job portraying the woman’s well-intentioned naivety.)
Among John’s worrying behavior in the premiere: asking Roni, “What’s in the safe, kiddo?” while she’s choosing a designer purse from a vault in her closet; snapping at Debra’s younger daughter, Terra (Ozark‘s Julia Garner), when she arrives at Debra’s new house early for Thanksgiving break; showing up extra-late to a charity gala, suspiciously dressed in his work scrubs instead of a tuxedo; and threatening Terra with violence when he finds her snooping through a box of his documents at Debra’s new place. (That last one really should prompt Debra to put the brakes on their relationship… but, as usual, it doesn’t.)
Sunday’s premiere is also peppered with scenes of John’s (alleged) career as an (alleged) anesthesiologist. He meets with a female patient who is about to undergo debulking surgery for ovarian cancer; he’s incredibly kind and supportive, and he seems to put the patient at ease. But after the operation, the woman is in tremendous pain — and even though John tells her that he’s going to give her some painkillers to help her out, the (alleged) drugs don’t do anything to make her feel better. Later, she begs a nurse for more drugs, but the nurse informs her that John already gave her the maximum amount — at least, that’s what the chart says. Still, the suffering patient cries that “it’s like he gave me nothing.”
There’s also a worrying flash-forward, too: Though the images are quick and out-of-focus, we can spot a man and a woman (whose faces we don’t see), a knife on the ground and a whole lot of blood.
OK, your turn. What did you think of Dirty John‘s premiere? Grade the episode via our poll below, then hit the comments to back up your choice!