Roush Review: Amanda Peet Scorches the Screen as TV’s ‘Betty Broderick’

Dirty John The Betty Broderick Story Review
Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network

“Divorce is the closest most people will come to war in their lives,” says Betty Broderick, who has the emotional battle scars to prove it.

In the second installment of the Dirty John anthology, which dramatizes toxic relationships, a relentlessly ferocious Amanda Peet never holds back in displaying the hell-hath-no-fury pain and rage of this infamously scorned woman. The Betty Broderick Story at various times presents its subject as a sympathetic figure, then seemingly reprehensible in her irrational outbursts and actions, and ultimately as tragic as she is terrifying.

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Get over it? If only Betty knew how, she wouldn’t have become a Court TV sensation in the 1990s during her two murder trials, inspiring two TV movies starring an Emmy-nominated Meredith Baxter and now this riveting eight-part limited series. (After a two-hour opener, the remaining episodes will air weekly.)

Convincing in both her misery and her capacity for dangerous payback, Peet scorches the screen as a loose cannon of festering paranoia and self-pity. She alienates her friends—whose obsession with Knots Landing seems ironic, considering the real-life soap playing out right in front of them—and even drives her devoted children away with her unhinged and eventually lethal payback.

Christian Slater Dirty John The Betty Broderick Story Dan

(Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network)

Extensive episode-long flashbacks, covering their 16-year marriage and beyond, reveal how crucial Betty’s support was for husband Dan (a smug Christian Slater) along the way. She helped put him through medical and law school to become a top malpractice lawyer, while raising their four children. (Tiera Skovbye and Chris Mason are quite convincing as their younger selves.) “I was a good girl,” she reflects sadly, but “following the rule book only works if your husband follows it, too.”

Betty imagines red flags in their relationship as Dan becomes a success, burying himself in work. But she sees only red once he takes a shine to Linda (Rachel Keller), a young receptionist he promotes to his legal assistant despite Betty’s jealous insistence that she be fired. When Dan finally leaves her for Rachel, what seems a regrettable and even repugnant midlife cliché triggers a series of immature and self-destructive moves on Betty’s part (vandalism, obscene phone messages) that are only made worse by Dan’s humiliating counter-maneuvers.

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The result is a story made for the tabloids, and tabloid TV. It doesn’t get juicier than this.

Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Series Premiere, Tuesday, June 2, 9/8c, USA