Her world had sleek beauty ... and a sociopath


I'd like to live in Debra Newell's world ... or, at least, in the re-creation of it for the new "Dirty John" mini-series. She seems to have great taste in design, but maybe not in romance. The show starts Sunday (Nov. 25), with a glamorous look and great work from Connie Britton as Newell; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Step into Debra
Newell's world and you're surrounded by beauty that is sleek and
slick ... and maybe a tad impersonal.

“There are no
antiques, no pictures of family,” production designer Ruth Ammon
said, on the set of the new “Dirty John” mini-series.

But there's a sense
that Newell, a designer, knew beauty and knew quality. For her new
boyfriend, John Meehan, this was dazzling. He soon marvelled at how
comfortable her mattress was.

“It turns out that
he had only been out of prison for two days,” said Jeffrey Reiner,
the “Dirty John” director. “He'd been laying on basically a
concrete slab before this.”

Or, at least, he was
fresh out of jail. A former nurse anesthetist in Dayton, Ohio, and
other places, Meehan had been caught stealing drugs; he lost his
nursing license and his freedom.

He spent 17 months
in a Michigan prison, then moved to California. Handsome and
barrel-chested, he began romances with wealthy women. Three had
restraining orders against him and he was jailed briefly. When he met
Newell on an online dating site, she was 59, attractive and
successful.

“She's really a
self-made woman,” said Connie Britton, who plays her in the
mini-series. “She was married four times prior to this (and) ended
up as a single mom. So started this business on her own that
flourished and actually started hiring single-mom employees.”

Newell wanted to
meet a successful man. Meehan, 55, said he was an anesthesiologist
and a part of “Doctors Without Borders.” He even showed up for a
fancy charity event wearing scrubs and saying he was just out of
surgery. “We find out that he was just at Taco Bell, eating a
burrito,” Reiner said.

Her daughters were
skeptical. What kind of doctor, they asked, doesn't have a car and
never seems to have money? But Newell wanted to be in love; they
moved to a gorgeous, Newport Beach home, which she again designed
beautifully. “She's creating almost a romantic scene,” Ammon
said.

When it fell apart,
the story was told in a Los Angeles Times podcast and stories,
drawing strong reactions. “One of he things that pains me the most
is when people talk about, 'How could Debra be so stupid?'” said
Alexandra Cunningham, the “Dirty John” writer and showrunner.

It can happen
easily, Britton said, amid a search for love. “I've been amazed
(at) the people in my life who have come out o the woodwork (and
said), 'I was in a relationship with a sociopath' ....

“One thing that
they say is, 'They will say anything, to get you to stay.'”

-- “Dirty John,”
10 p.m. for eight Sundays beginning Nov. 25, Bravo

-- Connie Britton
stars as Debra Newell, with Eric Bana as John Meehan. Juno Tempo
plays Newell's older daughter, with Jean Smart as Newell's mother