IR TV Review: DIRTY JOHN – THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY – EPISODE 1 & 2 – SEASON PREMIERE (“No Fault” & “The Turtle And The Alligator”) [USA]

The two part premiere of “Dear John: The Betty Broderick Story” is an interesting progression, specifically in context of the actors and how the story plays out. This story obviously could have the texture of a movie of the week and might have played in that stake 20 years ago. But with broadcast standards changed up and production also high, the inclusion of certain talent like Amanda Peet and Christian Slater as the would-be doomed couple in an interesting blend because of the move against expectation. Amanda Peet is in many ways remembered for comedy in “Whole Nine Yards” whereas Christian dates all the way back to “Heathers”. The reviewer is using these two films as reference points in specific because they show mindset in a relationship. This story follows Betty Broderick’s path to what becomes an untenable situation. While there is an understanding of her motives, the breakdown is an interesting psychological push, a maelstrom of expectation, child raising, sacrifice, upbringing and consequence. The first episode “No Fault” shows the unraveling of a marriage that was based on Betty giving up her thoughts and dreams to be traditional and help Dan (Slater) achieve his goals within the aspect of taking care of them forever.

What is interestingly done is the use of flashbacks including a younger actor that totally gets down the Slater playing Nicholson aspect while making it part of the character. The show runner explained in her message before the screener that when she remembered this real life event happening it was a bit of urban lore but as she grew up and had kids of her own and reached the age of Betty Broderick, the pain of the woman and how she kept trying to see the light or best until she couldn’t rang true. The series does come with a disclaimer that the events hve been dramatized and fictionalized to a point. Slater has an interesting line to play in a character that does give his soon-to-be ex wife chances to move on but also doesn’t give her the tools that she needs. In this specific situation, he has the chips stacked in his corner but won’t provide. It is a choking mechanism. Peet, for her part, has ever played a character like this before. It might also have to do with her becoming a mother in recent years as well to give  different perspective.

It is hard at times to understand why Broderick reacts but the key is to take it in the context of the 80s: the exit strategies were not in place (not that they fully are today) but the coldness of Betty’s parents to her plight and what they saw as traditional in an interesting conundrum. Now as the second episode (“The Turtle & The Alligator”) integrates, Peet’s Betty tries to connect back to Dan but then dives into an overt emotional space. She tries to put up a strong front but cannot take the ego destroyer of the tactics that her husband is using. She can’t understand how he can be so cold and still laugh at her jokes. The most painful and some of the best acting from Peet is when you see her smiling and yet the pain. I have talked to Peet many years ago and actually remember an interview when Matthew Perry snuck into her interview for “The Whole Nine Yards” while he was doing interviews for “Servicing Sara” with Liz Hurley upstairs. They enjoyed each other’s company and made jokes but again, like Betty and Dan, it is a moment in time.

Not that that is a reflection of the show. It just shows that every human has their own path to follow but one has to see the whole picture. With human beings are never like that in the moment. It is always upon refection when it is over. That is the structure that plays here. Either people don’t believe Betty could do something like this or maybe she didn’t know that she could do it. Or she is hiding. Or she had a break. It is a dynamic idea which in today’s TV landscape can be done. What this “Dear John” does in an interesting way is do it in a more sanitized way, showing the psychological breaks without being overtly graphic or crass per se. It is a human drama and is shown that way.

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By Tim Wassberg

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