Serial was probably the taster which encouraged most people to listen to more true crime podcasts. Dirty John was the follow-up which kept people gossiping around the office water cooler.
Although our social fascination with crime is centuries-old, it certainly feels like Serial launched a new wave of popularity for the previously niche interest.
In many ways the hype around Dirty John by Christopher Goffard was similar to Serial, which brought podcasts to a whole new mainstream audience. I can’t remember where I first saw Dirty John, but suddenly it was everywhere and every other podcast addict was talking about it.
The podcast, produced with accompanying articles by the LA Times, starts with a murder. Listeners don’t know who it is or what happened.
Yet the story that unfolds is unexpected (or at least it seemed to not follow the trajectory I assumed it would). A wealthy woman with adult children meets a man online. This guy seems to be the man of her dreams. But her children don’t like him and parts of his story don’t add up.
Dirty John was so popular, a mini series starring Eric Bana as ‘Dirty’ John Meehan and Connie Britton as Debra Newell has been created for Netflix. It starts streaming in Australia on February 14 (I mean, what more can you ask for on Valentine’s Day).
I refuse to consider the podcast Dirty John entertainment. It is a brilliant piece of journalism.
Perhaps I feel that way because I read Goffard’s articles first, but it seemed to have a much more literary non-fiction feel than Serial or Netflix’s Making a Murderer.
Although it’s almost impossible to compare to Helen Garner, the style of Dirty John’s narrative thread felt much more like This House of Grief.
I may be mashing together the two experiences of both reading and listening to this story. I admired the depth which went in to telling this story and as a journalist, it felt overwhelming to imagine just how Goffard had pulled all these tiny threads together in such a compelling and literary style.
Dirty John was a quick and easy listen. Once I started, I couldn’t stop even though by that stage I’d also read the features and knew what was happening.
I enjoyed the way the interviews were blended with the narrative. It’s clear so much research has gone into this, going way beyond the relationship at the centre of the story and I really admired that.
At just a few episodes, Dirty John is a short and punchy listen. I really hope we see more multi-media features exploring truly great journalism and introducing it to a wider audience.
Dirty John explores some of the darkest parts of relationships, the truly horrendous things people can be capable of, but also the strength that can be found in the darkest moments.