TV Review: ‘Good Behavior’

Good Behavior TNT
Courtesy of TNT

"Downton Abbey's" Lady Mary plays a Southern ex-con meth addict in this new drama

It is hard to reckon with the execution of TNT’s “Good Behavior” without fixating, in some disbelief, at what it is trying to do in the first place. To be sure, it is not fair to judge a show entirely by its casting choices, or to evaluate a plot based merely on its premise. But while there is some kind of plot to “Good Behavior,” it is not nearly as fascinating as the question it presents from the very first frame: Why is Lady Mary playing a redneck?

Lady Mary is, of course, British actress Michelle Dockery’s breakout role on the wildly popular period soap “Downton Abbey.” The show captivated American audiences because it was so charmingly British — and in that same vein, Dockery’s performance in it is a marvelous tapestry of icy condescension and repressed self-loathing. Even her eyebrows, so delicately arched and perpetually raised, evoke fox hunts on horseback and tea served in the library.

Naturally, actors want to explore different roles, and Dockery is an adventurous, capable actress. But it is still difficult to understand why a British woman who looks so preternaturally comfortable in a corset is playing North Carolina white trash, complete with a Southern drawl and a meth problem — especially when that accent meanders unconvincingly, and the scrupulously beautiful lead is supposed to be both a meth head and an ex-con. Dockery assiduously applies herself to the drinking and f–king of the lead character, Letty Raines, but the hard-bitten addict still always seems like a British pageant queen dropped into the hinterlands of North Carolina.

As wild as that sounds, that’s a plot that is more comprehensible than most of what “Good Behavior” serves up. The story follows Letty right after her release from prison, as she tries to stay clean, repair her relationship with her mother and her son, and avoid getting tossed into the clink again. This goes awry when she discovers she has the power to save a random stranger’s life. But the show never quite establishes or even decides who Letty is; she’s an ex-con and a con-artist, a self-help nut and an addict jumping off the wagon, a tough cookie and a fragile soul. There’s something frustratingly blurry about her personality and her motivations — almost as frustratingly blurry as her accent.

As a result, Letty is introduced to the audience as a series of character traits and behaviors that do not seem connected to each other or to Dockery’s performance; things just happen, without accruing much significance. The first episode follows her as she cleans toilets, fends off a rape attempt, gets fired from her job, tells her parole officer she’s trying to be a good person, steals a bunch, and then decides on a whim to save a woman’s life. This is followed by a fake date, real sex, a standoff with a shotgun, Toyota 4Runner product placement, and last but not least, smoking meth out of a light bulb. This is a lot of stuff, but it never coheres, and frequently, it feels like the show isn’t trying, content to let the style of the show smooth out the wrinkles in substance.

It almost works. The show does have style in spades, anchored by Letty’s capers on the “job.” What “Good Behavior” is best at is delivering the seedy, sexy, pulpy titillation of forbidden money and temporary relationships. Dockery’s look makes sense when Letty is wearing wigs, sipping martinis, and palming expensive jewelry off of a mark; elsewhere, the drama revels in neon-lit chiaroscuro, choppy addiction montages, and surprisingly on-point musical choices. Letty is both infinitely resourceful and constantly taken advantage of, which doesn’t really make sense from a character perspective, but certainly makes for some great montages.

And though it’s hard to buy Letty’s many contradictions, it is not hard to buy the unstable attraction and revulsion she has for Javier (Juan Diego Botto), a hitman whose primary personality traits are that he’s weirdly polite and soap-opera-star hot. “Good Behavior” should just be a show where the two bicker and run capers, and it kind of wants to be, nudging the two towards a mutually exploitative working relationship. But out of a laudable desire for more complexity, the story seems to trip over itself, juggling heavy material it doesn’t know how to handle with lighter banter that begins to feel uncomfortably out of place. From one perspective, Letty and Javier’s relationship follows the getting-to-know-you arc of dating, with crimes standing in for dinner dates. From another, “Good Behavior” is a story of a woman who can’t quite maneuver her way out of being kidnapped, and eventually begins to enjoy it.

The rest of its problems are more run-of-the-mill. Like too many other cable dramas aiming for grit, “Good Behavior” is a convoluted antihero crime drama, prone to episode bloat and pulpy titillation. Too little vision spread out over too many episodes, the blank spaces of “Good Behavior” throw its limitations — plot, perspective, performance, and a lot of product placement for automotive brands — into sharper relief. “Good Behavior” is playing with some interesting concepts, but it hasn’t found a way to package them into something engrossing. There is something compelling about its erratic journey through style and character, wandering in and out of tropes and settings. But it always feels like “Good Behavior’s” good moments are there by accident, left in the path of a half-baked show trying to do too much.

TV Review: 'Good Behavior'

Drama, 10 episodes (3 reviewed): TNT, Tues. Nov. 15, 9 p.m. 60 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Chad Hodge, Blake Crouch, Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements

Cast

Michelle Dockery, Juan Diego Botto, Terry Kinney, Lusia Strus

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  1. Naomie says:

    This is the best show I have seen in a while.

  2. Naomie says:

    This is literally the stupidest article I’ve ever read. How do you have a job?

  3. cbsqit says:

    LOVED watching this show. I think Dockery and Botto are excellent – the entire cast is. Yes, some episodes are “all over the place” – but still – Good Behavior is FUN and ENTERTAINING to watch. I sure hope they have a SECOND SEASON !!

  4. Laurie says:

    I love this show. My husband and I found it by accident. We just got done watching all of Breaking Bad and nothing lives up to that show until we found this one. It leaves you wanting more. I hope the network will bring it back for many more seasons. I am disappointed that it is over. Now what do i watch?!

  5. Patrick Dunwhitty says:

    Don’t let this tedious review throw you off; the show is very good. I’ve lived in the south most of my life and her accent is perfectly fine and the reviewer’s fixation on it is the same mountaining of molehills that critics had on about Hugh Laurie in House back when it got started. I’m not going to do a tedious step by step refutation of all that is wrong with this review though. All I’m going to do is say that I think this show is WELL worth your time. The dinner scene with Javier’s family alone is worth watching this show for.

    • Laurie says:

      I agree. Her accent is amazing. I didn’t know she had an accent until I saw the catch up on the last episode interview. I was in awe. I think she is amazing!

  6. Joe in San Diego says:

    I must be the only person to have not watched Downton Abby; this is the first time that I’ve seen Michelle Dockery, and I truly enjoy her performance. I can see where Saraiya is having time shaking a preconceived image, after seeing Bill Pullman in “Ruthless People” my credulity is stretched seeing him try to pull off anything else than a bumbling idiot. POTUS? I don’t think so.

    I agree with Saraiya that the show is all over the place, and portions of the show just seem so unrealistic, e.g., the relationship between Letty and parole officer, Christian. Really, what parole office would go to such links to help a client and then become snared in the client’s scam? That’s what makes it so good, the improbable scenes seem to be where the show soars.

    Additionally, the filming and staging are so lush that the story, when the dialog falters, is rich in imagery. Think the episode, “For You I’d Go With Strawberry”.

    Where I have a hard time with this show is that these people are truly messed-up, tortured individuals. They have done really terrible things, and so I wonder why the heck I’m rooting for them. The last episode’s scene has parole office, Christian and FBI Agent, Rhonda Lashever snuggling on the couch in apparent post-coital bliss that is juxtaposed with Javier, in a get-away scene, quoting Emerson to Letty’s son, Jacob. It makes you wonder: who really is the bad guy?

    I’m looking forward to Season 2.

  7. Crystal says:

    This show hit home. I’m a recovering addict who went through some of the same things “”Letty” went through. So it’s very real, the pain of making horrible choices. The judgement, the shame of not living up to the expectations of others. Being a survivor. Always falling for the worst guy around. I’ve been clean for 11 years but I never forget. This is the best TV show I’ve ever seen. She plays the whole system. If this show does not have a second season I will be very disappointed. I❤this. She’s absolutely remarkable and I want a Javier.😆 And if people are honest people can relate to a lot of shit in this show. ENCORE!!

  8. jdubbiyou says:

    Have to agree. Dockery is a good actor but not in a million years is she believable as a meth head ex jailbird from a white trash background. Never more apparent than when she’s on camera with Lusia Strus who hits the bulls eye portraying her narcissistic, heartless mother. The story arc started out intriguingly enough with grifter and hit man partnering up and planning capers soon devolved into soap opera family relationships where who these people are and what they’re supposed to be doing becomes almost an afterthought.

  9. boobookittysmom says:

    I was so upset that tonight was the Season Finale of Good Behavior! So I googled it to see when it would return. Not in a million years did it ever cross my mind that it might be canceled!!! I loved Downton Abbey and could hardly wait to see Michelle Dockery in this new and completely opposite show and she has not let me down yet! There are these wonderful twists and turns in GB that are complete and stunning surprises! I got my older daughter watching, too! I don’t know what show Debbie Downer, the critic was reviewing, as she ripped it to shreds, but it was NOT my beloved Good Behavior starring the multitalented Michelle Dockery! Hear me now or hear me later, TNT!!! Renew Good Behavior or else!!!

  10. cgms310 says:

    Confusing to some degree, but fascinating in other respects…. I hope Season 2 will be as thought provoking as Season 1. Dockerty is an excellent actress and still very capable of adapting to any role given to her….

  11. shirleypetrandis says:

    Sorry, but after watching the most recent episode, when Letty turned in Javier at the end, texting his account name to the Feds, I don’t want to watch it anymore. She shouldn’t have a child, let alone be out of jail. She is a pathetic excuse for a woman. Really turned me off. I will not be watching the finale.

  12. Marcia says:

    I love this show. Best thing on tv since Nip Tuck. Love it!

  13. Betsy Wilson says:

    With all due respect Sonia, your opinion is neither correct or justified. I never watched Dowton Abbey so my critic of Michelle’s portrayal of a “white trash” Southerner is spot on. Look at the range of drama in her eyes when she’s in trouble, or being seduced, or pretending to be another person. She’s a great actress with huge talent. I think you’re the one who needs to grow a little bit and expand your mind

  14. Randy Thomas says:

    I love this program – and that’s saying something. It has been a long time since I enjoyed a show as much as I’ve enjoyed this one. I find the plot interesting and the characters have depth. I’m so sorry the first season is over and can hardly wait for the next season to start. I think I’ll binge it a couple of times in between!

  15. Chip Davis says:

    I think that this review is garbage. I am born and raised in the South, and I thing she does a fine job in this show. I have never been impressed with critics anyway. I usually hate the shows that critics like, and vice-versa.

    • John says:

      I am British but have never watched Downton Abbey so didn’t know Michelle Dockery. Just seen all 10 episodes and not once did I suspect she was British. I for one really enjoyed the show so agree that in this case the critic is very wrong.

  16. I have always loved Michelle Dockery for all her many talents. Therefore, I set my DVR as soon as I knew this show was a go. Last night i ended up binge watching all 7 episodes to date. I have never had a show pull me in so completely. The chemistry between Letty and Javier is electric. They bring about the best and put up with the worst of each other. It is much darker than the shows I usually watch. However, “Good Behavior” melds dark, twisted, and sexy, better than Shonda ever could have dreamed. Episode 7 is something that will probably be something to be studied and referred to by many in the years to come. “Variety”, you made a bad call on “Good Behavior”!

  17. Pamala says:

    Why should Michelle Dockery limit herself to British dramas? She’s an ACTOR and therefore should be allowed to “act” in as many roles as she can acquire, no matter the character. Many fine actors have shown their range by playing roles that are much different from the ones that made them famous. That the reviewer chose to include this shows a narrow mindset that doesn’t do credit to her or Variety. And the comment about Juan Diego Botto’s looks demeans his considerable acting talent and again, makes the reviewer look petty.

    The show does a stellar job of balancing the nuances of all the characters, not making them one thing or another or flat–just like real people have different aspects of their personalities that they show to others. It’s a refreshing and compelling and I hope that TNT has the good sense to renew it for another season.

    • Melinda says:

      I too absolutely love this show. Theres not many shows I set my dvr up for and watch at the same time. I have them all recorded aND love every one of them. Wonderful cast each and every one ofor them. I can’t wait til it’s back on . It is the beSt. The only other show i record and watch at the same time is the walking dead ….. Good Behavior is absolutely the best and im so glad that it will be back for another season….bedtime show ever

  18. Deborah says:

    Come on Variety, that wasn’t a fair critique. This show is great! Michelle Dockery is a genius no doubt. She captivated us for 6 years as Lady Mary on the hit show Dowton Abbey. And to go from classy to the dark side requires range, and she is the total package. She almost reminds me of Jessica Chastain in many ways. Good behavior is the best Drama series in TNT History. I recommend everyone to watch the show.

  19. Patricia Ann Bell says:

    This show is OFF THE HOOK. I just finished Episode 7. I am a TV junkie. There are soooo many shows I like. However, if I could only watch one TV show, it would be GOOD BEHAVIOR!

  20. Dockery’s accent is NOT all over the place or inconsistent. She played someone PRETENDING to be a southern teacher/writer in one episode, that was part of her act to Javier at first. Once she was found out, she went back to standard American. That she can switch from standard American to southern twang that easily in one episode is darn good acting in my book, not inconsistency. Critic Saraiya must be upset that she’s not a British character any longer, otherwise this is unnecessary nitpicking on an otherwise great drama that is obviously VERY popular now.

  21. Chris Goran says:

    Just found it tonight by accident…All I know is I love to look at and listen to
    Javier and that’s more than enough!

    • mirawilder says:

      I found this show by accident too, and binge watched 3 episodes and could not wait for the 4th and 5th episodes …I love this show! All of it! Please keep it going! Michelle Dockery is a marvelous actress.

  22. Dawn Stryker says:

    I love it. I haven’t had a show suck me in….in a long time. I was instantly hooked. I never watched Downtown Abbey, so comparing Michelle Dockery to a part she played there doesn’t effect me. I watched all the episodes in one night, and actually found this page because I am too excited for next weeks show. I was hoping to find a spoiler. Good Behavior, is juicy, sexy, and a bit over the top, but it got me hooked into the drama. Its perfect for a Tuesday night!

  23. linda4light says:

    Well, reviews are opinions. Here is mine.I love Michelle Dockery and thought she proved how talented she is by portraying this character. How far they can go with the story line remains to be seen, but I’ll enjoy Letty and Javier anyway. Dark with bits of humor, the story entertained me.

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