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One of the biggest challenges for Dirty John, the dramatized version of a true story about a California businesswoman caught in a bad romance that ended in homicide, was nailing the tone. To call a show or movie "Lifetime-y" has become a thinly veiled insult — an insinuation that the material rings of cheap melodrama, sentimentality, or overwrought emotion. And though Dirty John's tale of a woman escaping a Prince Charming who turned out to be a violent con man is a terrifying one with wider societal implications, there are moments in the series — particularly when Debra Newell, played by Connie Britton, is cowering or frozen with fear — that get dangerously close to seeming, well, Lifetime-y. Nonetheless, melodrama is a danger that Britton, also an executive producer on the series, recognized from the start and took great care to avoid.
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Britton - TV - Guide - Phone - Bit
"First and foremost," Britton told TV Guide via phone, sounding every bit as warm and please be my friend-inducing as a Connie Britton fan would expect, "when dealing with a story that actually happened, playing a woman who is alive and well and I had many conversations with, that helps ground it. What was so important to me is that I did absolutely not want the depiction to be written off as melodramatic and cliche. Because as soon as people write it off like that they couldn't take in the messages or find the truth."
One essential truth that rang throughout Dirty John's eight episodes was how several systems failed Debra — and women overall. By the time Debra met John, played by Eric Bana, John had already harassed, stalked, and abused several other women, served time and even tried to have several ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife murdered. Had Debra's daughter not stabbed...
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