Soapy and trashy, but bolstered by an excellent performance from Amanda Peet and a rich vein of truth, Dirty John Season 2: The Betty Broderick Story lives up to and perhaps surpasses its predecessor.
This review of Dirty John Season 2: The Betty Broderick Story is spoiler-free.
Dirty John was the nickname of John Meehan, a confidence trickster who was at the center of the true-crime case upon which both the LA Times podcast and the trashy Netflix dramatization were based. In that popular first season, he was played by Eric Bana, and his story ended, more or less, which makes it odd to see a follow-up boasting the same title. But Dirty John works as a catch-all moniker for any man who gets off on exploiting women – which I suppose is a lot of them, and so having expanded to dramatize other true-crime cases about love, manipulation, bitterness, and eventually murder, Dirty John lives on in spirit.
Thus, we have Dirty John Season 2: The Betty Broderick Story, now available on Netflix after an original run on USA Network, and starring Amanda Peet as the titular Catholic housewife who married doctor and then lawyer Daniel Broderick (Christian Slater) and eventually killed him.
That isn’t a spoiler. There’s no tension to be had in who killed who; this isn’t a whodunit, but an unpacking of a relationship that was seemingly idyllic but obviously built on a lingering hatred that resulted in a bitter, public divorce and then death. The intrigue is in how exactly this happened, which party is to blame – although the show floats the possibility that it’s neither or both – and to what extent the tragedy could have been avoided or at least seen coming. Most of it takes place in the 80s, but Tiera Skovbye and Chris Mason occasionally embody younger versions of Betty and Daniel in flashbacks. But it’s Slater and most notably Peet who carry this dramatization on their shoulders, with the latter especially given a tough ask in taking a largely hysterical woman through various stages of grief, mania, and obsession.
Dirty John Season 2: The Betty Broderick Story relishes its 80s fixtures and fittings and in a sense the soapy outrageousness of Betty’s increasingly absurd behavior. It plays in the way that certain shows do when they know they’re onto something that’s going to capture public interest, both because it’s a true-crime tale and because on some level it speaks to larger issues of legality, divorce proceedings, mental health, patriarchal dominance and assumed gender roles. As a spouse, Betty supported Dan in his high-paying, respectable career, as housewives were wont to do, but once they separated what was once devotion left her without their kids and their money and, thanks to Dan’s status, barely able to find legal representation to win those things back.
As mentioned at the top, the spirit of Dirty John lives on through the Betty Broderick story, but not in the way you’d think. While there’s undeniably a heinous crime at the tale’s center, its most potent sense of ire is reserved for a legal system that reduces two people who once ostensibly loved one another into warring factions competing over territory and spoils; within that, children become commodities, shared memories become evidence, and sacred vows become slurs. We’re repeatedly reminded that the show’s creator Alexandra Cunningham was able to play a bit faster and looser with details and characters here, but Dirty John remains an ever-present specter of unfairness and inequality that needs no exaggeration at all.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.