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‘Good Behavior’ Review: Michelle Dockery Drops ‘Downton Abbey’ for a Bad Romance

Held up by a problematic central relationship, "Good Behavior" provides Michelle Dockery ample opportunity to break free from "Downton Abbey," but little else.

GOOD BEHAVIOR Season 1 Michelle Dockery TNT

TNT/Turner Broadcasting

For everything that’s going on in the “Good Behavior” pilot — and there’s a lot — TNT’s new hour-long drama comes down to a question of morality. Posited by Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery) to her parole officer as a telling hypothetical, the query asks if you saw someone stranded on the side of the road, would you stop to help them? Though there are a lot of factors to consider (including your trust in humanity and how directly that connects to your physical prowess), Chad Hodge and Blake Crouch’s adaptation of the latter’s novels asks you to put a lot of faith in someone who answers, “Yes” — no matter what they actually do after offering assistance.

One could rationalize such blind acceptance is implied in the title. “Good Behavior” tracks Letty after her release from prison, as the con artist and thief tries to stay straight despite the constant interference of luddite male figures. There’s her boss at the diner who doesn’t care that she was groped and intimidated in the bathroom. There’s her parole officer who doesn’t understand her situation so much as he wants to establish authority over an ex-con. And then there are a slew of bad men who do bad things and are thus punished for it by a woman who knows how to handle her own.

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All this would be good enough — better, even, given the propulsive pacing and fine acting by Dockery — except for one man who doesn’t fit in. Javier Pereira (Juan Diego Botto) is a contract killer Letty first encounters while he accepts a job to kill an innocent housewife. Despite knowing what he’s planning and why he’s set to do it (the almighty dollar), Letty finds herself drawn to Javier, inserting herself into his life because she just couldn’t drive by a stranded woman on the side of the road.

GOOD BEHAVIOR Season 1 Episode 2 Michelle Dockery TNT

Or could she? Despite what’s clearly meant to be seen as a desire to do good even when surrounded by bad influences (Letty listens to positive affirmations all day and even gives herself a few during times of dire temptation), this drug-addicted boozehound enters into a complicated relationship with Javier that leads her down an even more complicated road. Her choices are baffling, even when considering she may be an extra bad broad who’s only trying to do what’s right. Chalking it up as a mistake is too forgiving. Calling it a choice is too simple. But the couple poses a far greater problem than a lack of understanding: “Good Behavior” revolves around an abusive relationship we’re meant to find scandalous — in a good way.

Though not all the signs are there, Letty and Javier are screwing with each other as much as they literally screw each other. More bluntly, they’re clearly not good for one another. She’s a meth-head trying to earn back the right to see her son, and he’s an assassin intent on putting her in dangerous situations with dangerous people. On the other side, he’s a man taking on simple missions with no foreseeable endgame in sight who invites a cluster bomb into his very organized life. Why they both cling to each other is poorly reasoned from a plot standpoint and less than forgivable from a romantic angle.

GOOD BEHAVIOR Season 1 Juan Diego Botto TNT Michelle Dockery

Through three episodes, not enough reasons are given to make us root for either person, let alone that they continue forward as a couple. It takes a moment to even accept the odious nature of their relationship, because the show’s actual construction can easily con you into pushing forward. Hodge and Crouch keep things constantly moving, creating authentic and cheap excitement throughout, possibly to keep you from questioning why these two characters make the decisions they do. Still, with popular and energetic songs accompanying inherently tense situations, “Good Behavior” should hold your interest until you’re left to think things through.

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Yet the one untarnished positive to be taken from this should be Dockery. After breaking out in “Downton Abbey” as the wealthy daughter of a Lord and Lady living in pre-WWI Britain, the English actress sheds her period genre trappings with ease in a role demanding the gamut from its performer. Multiple accents, challenging physical scenes, and deeply emotional moments all come a’ callin’ before the first episode wraps, and similar actorly peaks and valleys just keep popping up in subsequent hours. Dockery is a bit hampered by how quickly Letty’s extreme emotions shift, but that’s the fault of an overloaded script, not an actress who does a damn fine job corralling a character who’s all over the map.

“Good Behavior” may develop into a guilty pleasure once it gets past the icky origins of its romance, but its value along the way — primarily, an ass-kicking female protagonist taking vengeance on oppressive, rotten men — is largely mooted by a relationship contrary to that very mission.

Grade: C

“Good Behavior” premieres Tuesday, November 15 at 9pm on TNT. 

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