‘Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story’ Is the Next Big ‘Woman Scorned Murders Her Husband’ Event

Kevin Fallon
USA Netword
USA Netword

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

This week:

  • Lady Gaga’s new album (!!!!!!!!!)

  • A new good show for people who like murder

  • The Jennifer Coolidge video I’ll never stop watching

  • A cute update about cute viral videos

  • The photo you’ll never unsee

Good Murder, If You Like Murder

I don’t know what it says about us—but, make no mistake, it is probably bad—that the most popular form of TV entertainment is murder.

People love murder. They love true-crime murder; the more sordid the tale, the better.

They love murder when it’s an assassin who is also an aspiring commercial actor. They love murder when it’s real, when it’s sad, when it’s unsolved, when they already know the story, when they’ve never heard it before, when it’s the subject of a gritty prestige drama series, when it’s the subject of a trashy movie of the week, when it’s on a channel devoted entirely to talking about it, or when it’s a group of tigers who possibly ate Carole Baskin’s husband.

Murder-as-entertainment isn’t a cottage industry anymore so much as it is a compound of palatial estates, so prevalent as to spawn the aforementioned buffet of subgenres exploring it: In what mood would you like your homicide presented to you today? It’s that variety that makes Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, which premieres Tuesday on USA, so interesting—a woman-scorned murder drama series that’s journeyed through the looking glass.

The first season of Dirty John, which aired last year on Bravo based on the popular podcast, was its own significant turning point, a new kind of collision of prestige drama and trash TV. It told a story we’re used to watching unfold in certain beats of a certain tone in Lifetime movies—crassly, a “guilty pleasure”—but with a creative team and gravity that signaled elevated, “serious” television. Connie Britton, is that you?

Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story threads a curlicue of meta-ness through the endeavor by tackling the Broderick case, or re-tackling it, as it’s already served as a pillar of murder-TV entertainment. Betty Broderick’s murder of her husband after he jilted her already inspired 1992’s made-for-TV movie A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, which earned Meredith Baxter an Emmy nomination.

Whatever it is you imagine in your head when you picture a clichéd murder-of-the-week TV movie (usually airing on Lifetime), this is the one that made the mold—to that point that more than one sitcom has joked about fictional versions of these movies starring Baxter.

This is all to say that revisiting the case that started it all with the kind of treatment Dirty John gives it—at times compassionate and introspective, at other times leaning into beats of outrageousness—is a delicate act, one that wouldn’t work without Amanda Peet as Betty.

She is very, very good, somehow playing all sides of the tonal kaleidoscope here at once, differing depending from which angle you look at it. Is she nailing the potential camp of the whole “woman scorned” thing? Is she crafting a complicated character study of what drove Betty to do this? Is she mid-breakdown? Is she calculating?

When her husband sells their old house out from under her, in a rage spiral she goes to burn it down. Then she thinks better of it and decides to drive her car into his current front door instead. “What I did was crazy, but I am not crazy,” she tells a psych evaluator. It’s not easy to create a performance that lives somewhere in that space, but Peet manages it here.

Jennifer Coolidge, Graduation Icon

It is disappointing for this year’s graduates that they’re deprived of the usual pomp and circumstance because of COVID-related safety shutdowns. But it is also incredibly inspiring and impressive how institutions have pivoted to make the event still seem special and monumental.

In other words, how else would we have gotten Jennifer Coolidge to don a cap and gown in a parlor dimly lit by scattered candelabras and howl at a gathering of possibly haunted porcelain dolls and a stuffed pug in a Frida Kahlo flower crown, “Life is a storm, my young graduates!” (Watch it here.)

The Emerson College alum delivered an unforgettable remote commencement speech this week—sure, Obama’s made me teary, but suffered from a glaring dearth of dolls—that reworked a passage of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo in order to deliver a singular message of hope and laughter to the Class of 2020 and raise the question of whether the Emmy Awards should launch a new category for virtual commencement addresses.

High School Musical Stars, Fellow Icons

Speaking of the Class of 2020, we’ve mentioned before this really lovely and smiley and genuinely pure thing from when this shutdown started and the vibe of the world was just general malaise and fear and doom and sadness.

Tony-winner Laura Benanti started the #SunshineSongs movement on Twitter, calling for students whose high school musical performances were canceled because of quarantine to post videos of themselves singing and tag her. “I want to be your audience!! Sending all my love and black market toilet paper.”

They did—thousands of them, countless teenagers belting their hearts out. It was the best kind of rabbit hole to lose yourself in, one that, funnily enough, helped dig a lot of people out of a dark time with some light and cheer. And now, like everything popular and significant, it will be a TV show.

Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is in the works for the new streaming service HBO Max, with Benanti producing. There’s no premiere date yet, but maybe it’s time to update our piece on whether you should subscribe.

Paul Mescal’s Legs, Icons As Well

Have you watched and/or masturbated to Normal People on Hulu yet? If not, I am not sure whether these paparazzi photos of lead Paul Mescal will attract or repel you, but it is something I will not soon stop thinking about.

Equally great: author Sady Doyle’s perfect tweet about it, both summarizing the nature of the internet’s collective thirst and reading it for filth.

What to watch this week:

Ramy: The surprise gem from last year is this year’s expected delight.

Below Deck: Med: Escapism has never been more of an essential service.

Quiz: It’s funny, it’s wild, it’s dramatic, and it’s all based on a true story.

What to skip this week:

Space Force: It’s not good. It’s so surprisingly not good.

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