If you were to head to Twitter right now and type “Dirty John Daughters” in the search bar, you will find two very different forms of television discourse laid out in front of you after Bravo’s Dirty John premiere, which is inspired by real events. On one side are the people who simply can’t believe Debbie Newell (Connie Britton) couldn’t see the forest for the trees when it came to the suspicious behavior of her new boyfriend John Meehan (Eric Bana), who becomes her husband by the end of the episode. That fact is even more shocking for fans since Debbie’s daughters Veronica (Juno Temple) and Terra Newell (Ozark standout Julia Garner) repeatedly tell their mom something is up with her new man John.
On the other side of the social media divide are the people whose knee-jerk reaction is to hate on the Newell sisters, all due to their platinum blonde hair, relentless vocal fry, and respective trappings of privilege. Clearly, viewers are already trying to discount Debbie’s “bratty” children.
However, no one should dismiss Veronica or Terra Newell. Not only are they the only people who are right about John from the jump in Bravo's L.A. Times-Wondery true crime podcast adaptation, but the baby of the Newell family is also poised to be become the heroine of this tale. Just ask Terra’s portrayer, Julia Garner.
“I think that’s what makes the story even go to the L.A. Times and have a podcast — [Terra’s] ending,” Garner teased to Refinery29 over the phone (you can read the full spoilery explanation of that imminent climax right here). “It would just be [the story of] another crazy guy, another bad dude, otherwise. There are so many bad guys or bad people.”
While Garner promises you’ll be rooting for Terra by the time Dirty John season 1 comes to an end, she thinks her Bravo character is already pretty likable right now. Yes, even with her vocal fried for-the-series speaking voice, which the native New Yorker perfected by studying interviews with the actual Newell sisters.
“When I first listened to the podcast, I liked Terra from the beginning. I always thought she was really sweet and sensitive and very fragile,” Garner, who binged the podcast before diving into John’s script, explained. “I find those to be attractive qualities to have.”
Garner, the baby of the family in her own life, is excited to show audiences that being sensitive won't stop Terra from also becoming a force to be reckoned with. “When people are sweet, [others] just push them in a corner or whatever. [They act] like sweet people can’t really hold their own,” Terra’s portrayer began. “It’s only when you know there’s an extreme circumstance that you learn how somebody truly is.”
Dirty John certainly stands as an extreme circumstance. As viewers see in the premiere, Debbie Newell meets a charismatic man named John claiming to be a doctor on a dating app. Soon enough, he’s sleeping over in her luxurious apartment, asking what her daughter Veronica is hiding in her safe (it’s designer handbags), and eventually moving into the pricey waterfront home Debra is bankrolling for him. All of this happens in matter weeks. Immediately, Veronica and Terra notice something is wrong with John. For Ronnie, it’s alarming how little John’s supposed wealthy lifestyle matches his appearance and behavior. For Terra, her concerns are raised when she realizes her mother is lying about John living with her and that he violently threatens Terra when confronted with questions.
As the Dirty John podcast confirms, John’s actions only escalate from there, which makes sense — Debra Newell’s fifth husband was actually a lifetime con-man with a lengthy history of aggressive behavior.
“The thing with Terra is ... she instantly has a very strong intuition about John, and it was clear in the writing. [But] she gives people chances,” Garner said. Then the actress reminded viewers that Terra won’t be so forgiving forever, saying, “She has a breaking point as a character ... [where] everyone is like, ‘Oh!’ They were a little surprised.”
While you wait to be just as surprised about Terra as the Newells will become during Dirty John season 1, try to enjoy the lovably ridiculous banter between the youngest Newell sibling and her big sister Veronica. After all, it’ll be the perfect compliment to Bravo’s best reality show, which returns on Monday, December 2. As Garner said, “People like watching rich people problems … When I have heavy scenes, especially when I’m doing something like Ozark, the last thing I want to do on a weekend is watch something depressing. You think I’m going to watch that or Vanderpump Rules?"
“I’m definitely going to watch Vanderpump Rules.”
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