Podcast: Dirty John
What Is It?: A six-part true crime podcast series that is a collaboration between Wondery and the Los Angeles Times. The entire series details the story of “Dirty John” Meehan and what happened after he met Orange County divorceé Debra Newell Stewart.
Who Are The Hosts?: The series is reported and hosted by Christopher Goffard, an author and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Goffard not only narrates the podcast and interviews key players but he also wrote corresponding articles that appear on the LA Times website to accompany the podcast.
What’s A Normal Episode Like?: The show follows a pretty familiar style for true crime podcast listeners. In the first episode, we’re introduced to the people at the heart of the story while also getting teased with the shocking crime that awaits us in the final episode. Then, we settle in for the step-by-step discussion about what John Meehan, a lifetime grifter and criminal, and the ripple effect created when he wormed his way into Debra’s life and the lives of her family. From there, the episode might spend some time flashing back to earlier days in John’s life or the shocking events that affected Debra’s family years earlier and how that influenced the way some people approached John in spite of his behavior.
The story itself reminded me a lot of The Imposter documentary. Not just because a man pretending to be something he’s not is at the center of the story, but because he’s at the center of the story, it leaves you wondering why an otherwise smart and successful person might want to believe his story in spite of the mounting evidence against him. That’s the extra thing at the center of Dirty John that helps it stand out. It’s not just the story of one bad guy. It’s the story of a bad guy and the people around him and how they all fit together.
Who Is It For?: First and foremost this is a podcast for fans of true crime and mystery, perhaps the hottest genre of them all across the platform. If you enjoyed Serial, In The Dark, or Crimetown, you’ll appreciate the journalistic approach and simmering storytelling at work here. For podcast listeners burned by shows such as S-Town or Missing Richard Simmons, which didn’t deliver their initial promise, they can rest assured that the conclusion for Dirty John is set in stone and wraps up the story in a satisfying way (as satisfying as some of these terrible details can be).
Who Is It Not For?: There are some disturbing elements at play in Dirty John. Domestic abuse and death, chief among them. It’s the story of a manipulator who seems incapable of not causing harm wherever he goes and that leaves a lot of broken people in his wake. Listeners who think there’s a trigger or two waiting for them in there might want to steer clear.
How Many Episodes Are There?: The entire series takes place over six episodes, each one around 40 minutes in length. It’s a tight true crime tale that still has plenty of time to maneuver into deeper discussions about specific people involved and why they might make the decisions they make. It’s the perfect length if you’re looking for a podcast to binge over the course of a day or need something for your weekly commute. Chances are you’ll burn through them pretty quickly.
Any Special Guests?: It’s not that kind of podcast, though you might be surprised to find out that The Walking Dead ends up playing a prominent role in the conclusion of the story even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the sordid crimes and mystery.
Can I Jump Right In?: Well, yeah. The show took advantage of the new trend to dump all your episodes at once rather than parsing them out on a week-by-week basis. It’s smart because audience trends veer towards the desire to binge-listen and it ups the chances that people will do that rather than listen to one and forget to subscribe. Also, because the podcast is good, it immediately shot up the iTunes charts to be the top podcast because of all the listens, thereby introducing even more people to it. It’s a savvy method for these kinds of podcasts that we can expect to see more of.
Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started: Well, you really have to start with the first one. It’d be pretty dumb not to.
So, Should I Listen To This?: If you’re a fan of true crime or mystery, Dirty John is a must-add to your subscription list. The six episodes will fly by and the story will keep you hooked throughout. You know up front that something bad is coming at the end of the podcast but even then it manages to give you just enough of a spin that you might not predict how it all plays out. The addition of LA Times articles that provide even more depth to the story to accompany each episode is a nice bonus as well.