Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
The short-form anthology feel of the novella lends a gritty realism to the opening hours of TNT’s new drama Good Behavior. That makes sense, given that the show is based on Blake Crouch’s Letty Dobesh novellas (Crouch also wrote Wayward Pines, alas there is no such fringe weirdness here), but it also makes the show feel unique in spite of, or perhaps because of, a few problematic imperfections.
There’s occasional blandness to the way the show treats its degenerate-with-a-heart-of-gold main character, the ex-con con artist Letty Raines in this version, but it’s got an elusive, dreamlike vibe to it that makes it one easy rabbit hole to fall into. Not much that happens here is shockingly new – there are salacious relationships, drug addicts forced to get clean, shocking murders, and attempts to hide a true self from the public. But Good Behavior is more than the sum of its Breaking Bad-lite parts, partly because its plot is sneakily addictive, but mostly because Michelle Dockery embraces her bad girl side in the lead role with bawdy glee.
First off, a bit of truth: I’ve never seen an episode of Downton Abbey, the show from which Dockery rose to fame, so I can’t compare the two roles. Her turn as Letty Raines in TNT’s new show, however, is largely engaging. There’s an in media res feel to the pilot, which leaves much of the explanation of Letty’s motivations to its closing moments, forcing the brunt of her nuance onto Dockery’s capable shoulders. She gets fired from a crappy diner, lives out of a suitcase, runs a scam stealing belongings from a ritzy motel, can barely get through a phone call with her mom, Estelle (Lusia Strus), without breaking down, and might have slightly more moral fiber than she lets on.
She discovers that for herself when one of the room she pilfers turns out to be that of a hitman, Javier (Juan Diego Botto), so she hides in the closet and subsequently overhears him finalizing the assassination of a frustrated man’s wife. Her decisions eventually lead her to become entangled in Javier’s murder-for-hire business, taking her out of the state of North Carolina and putting her further in danger of being caught by stringent parole officer Christian (Terry Kinney).
It’s that domino effect of unexpected, logical turns that sets Good Behavior off, but the meandering story won’t be for everyone. Episode 1 is pitted by some of the most intensely lingering scenes I’ve seen on TV this year (two, in fact), but the second hour is far more straightforward mark-of-the-week stuff, which is a format that – thankfully – Good Behavior appears to largely not adhere to. It’s the third episode, with a dramatic crisis spiralling out of the search for a Tesla charging station, that satisfies in increasingly unexpected and novel ways.
That’s because Dockery and Botto are able to sell the warring friction of sexual tension between two rivals with a heated passion. As Javier, Botto is the perfect intersection of charming and appalling, but he’s shortchanged initially by a story that cares more readily about Letty’s backstory than his. That doesn’t make scenes between the two (which is, essentially, most of the opening hours of the show) any less crackling, particularly in episode 3. Against the road trip backdrop and battery-draining plot device, Javier and Letty’s interplay ratchets up to an entertaining 11, and the show’s full view comes more into focus.
Of course, it’s a full view that’s not always promising. On a smaller, more intimate scale, Letty’s character fluctuates from likable rapscallion (see her, in episode 3, using a toilet paper roll as a pillow to lay back and play Mr. Jump on the dirty floor of a gas station bathroom) to frustrating hypocrite. Without delving into specifics, Dockery’s one shortcoming is a failure to fully carry over the layered complexities of her moral dilemma in the pilot throughout the rest of the episodes. She’s traumatized by what happens, sure, and consistently engrossing, but the show feels most flaccid when it completely fails to serve up the moral capriciousness of better, more capable dramas, and it fumbles with that more and more as it goes on.
But, in its own slight way, Good Behavior also feels winning because of its shortcomings. Like Letty, the show is far from perfect, but on a pure level of weekly entertainment, there was an undeniable addiction that set in for me halfway through the pilot once Letty came stumbling out of a bush, covered in hangover vomit, ready to save a Real Housewife from an assassin. The show sets up small morsels to trail you along – what happened to cause this rift with her mom? What’s her relationship with her son like? What’s Javier’s plans for her? – and it isn’t too stingy with the answers. That’s a quality carried over by creator Chad Hodge (who also adapted Crouch’s Wayward Pines into a series for FOX), but, also like that show, it leaves a whole helluva lot of question marks for the back half of the season.
Despite episode 3’s success at holding down the show’s balance of grim subject matter and bitter humor, it still doesn’t much explain what any of this will add up to in the future. The show, in its first three episodes, is an ode to happenstance and random occurrences inciting bigger events around a set of characters, and the things they do to counteract terrible – and sometimes deadly – consequences. It’s easy to cast doubts on the show’s future because of that uncertainty of a “master plan” residing behind the scenes, but Good Behavior is entertaining in its own shaggy way and, at the very least, a solid addition to a network whose one-hour drama track record has otherwise been somewhat spotty.
Good Behavior isn't as morally or narratively complex as some of the better dramas on TV right now, but on a level of pure, breezy entertainment, TNT's new series is dangerously addictive.