Premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT, Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret is a ripped-from-cable-news saga of a woman scorned who last month was found guilty of killing her former lover, motivational speaker Travis Alexander. On June 4, 2008, Arias stabbed and slashed him nearly 30 times, slit his throat and shot him in the head in what prosecutors said was jealous rage, and what Arias unpersuasively argued was self-defense, when, according to her, he attacked her.
But you know all that.
Dirty Little Secret unearths no secrets, dirty or otherwise. Every sordid detail, it seems, has been trumpeted for years by the media, then recycled for months during Arias' trial in Phoenix that got blanket coverage on TV and in particular on cable's HLN, vaulting that network to record ratings.
Now comes the inevitable made-for-TV film. Portraying what led up to the crime, it's tucked handily between the May verdict for the murder trial and the July retrial in the life-or-death-penalty phase.
The big surprise: Dirty Little Secret is a pretty good film. It's a draw-you-in, sudsy melodrama stocked with guilty pleasures: romance, sex, obsession, betrayal and vengeance.
Tania Raymonde (perhaps best remembered as Alex Rousseau on Lost) is swell as Jodi, with a remarkable likeness to this sexy, young woman no man could resist, at least not Travis as he fought a losing battle with his Mormon principles to feast on this forbidden fruit.
Or, to use a metaphor straight from the film, forbidden coffee – which, as Travis explains to Jodi early on, he shuns as a Mormon because of its addictive properties.
"I'm like coffee," Jodi teases him.
"Very strong coffee," he agrees as he submits again.
Jesse Lee Soffer (Jordana Spiro's jammed-up brother on last season's short-lived The Mob Doctor) makes a fine Travis – glib, blandly wholesome and all too relatable in his mission to have it both ways, relationship-wise: treating Jodi as a red-hot plaything while he nurtures a "suitable" wife-worthy prospect.
Trouble arises, of course, as love-struck Jodi bridles at the strictly recreational role she plays in Travis' life. Even joining the Mormon church can't earn her an upgrade from her booty-call status.
Travis argues that he never promised more. When Jodi was gazing into his eyes, he tells her, "You saw lust. You saw weakness. But you didn't see love. It was never there."
So, for a time, Travis thrives as a satisfied two-timer, while Jodi is increasingly desperate to please.
"I just want to be the girl that he wants," she tells a chum.
Then she snaps.
Dirty Little Secret charts a step-by-step, we-all-know-where-this-is-headed run-up to her grisly payback, a scene lyrically staged as a slow-motion massacre to give the audience equal doses of horror and dramatic catharsis after having witnessed Travis push her past the breaking point.
Well done. It's dandy entertainment.
Mind you, such an assessment of this film and its doomsday narrative is meant in no way to trivialize the real-life tragedy of Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander.
But Dirty Little Secret is a step up from the reality-TV treatment the case has gotten with its more excessive coverage. The film also serves as a refreshing alternative for telling the tale, dramatized for maximum titillation while, in its tidy, two-hour package, efficiently stripping away the wretched excess.
An oddly respectable bit of fluff, this film would never be mistaken for art, which typically explores something larger than itself. But there's a lesson to be learned here nonetheless for anyone who looks beyond the tawdriness: If a lover seems too good to be true, he or she probably is. So watch your step.