True crime podcasts deal in the outer limits of human pain: disappeared loved ones; inexplicable violence; murder. These stories are so distant from our everyday experience as to resemble fiction, as safely entertaining as an episode of CSI. By contrast, this co-production of Wondery and the LA Times begins in a way that feels smaller and weirder - until it, too, ends in murder. It's a lurid internet-dating horror story: a charismatic man, John, wins over a lonely woman, Debra, but he is not the man he presents himself to be. Over the course of six episodes, things get more strange, and much worse. The present and the past fold in on each other as John's back story is revealed in increments, while his present-day relationship with Debra and her family unravels.
Dirty John is obsessed with one man's capacity to do evil. And John does seem to be extraordinarily, unusually bad, at every point and in every aspect of his life. We have seen criticism that, as a result, the show does not sufficiently contextualise domestic violence, and that's a fair complaint to make. Rather, the central question that propels this narrative is: are some people just born bad? That question - while it is, one might argue, insufficiently nuanced - is still dark and universal enough to carry this show, which is certainly the best thing we've heard from Wondery to date. All six episodes available now.
Gateway episode: 1 | The Real Thing (2 Oct 2017)
From: Wondery/LA Times
Released: 6 episodes, concluded