'Good Behavior': TV Review

Good Behavior - Juan Diego Botto Michelle Dockery - Still - H - 2016
Vincent Peters/TNT
Could be a lot better than good.

Michelle Dockery turns bad girl in TNT's newest drama, which has a great pilot and lots of promise but a premise that might need time to pan out.

TNT's latest drama, Good Behavior, has more than a few good things going for it — starting with a beautifully moody and exceptionally rendered pilot by director Charlotte Sieling (Homeland, The Americans, Queen of the South), a virtuoso performance from Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) and the kind of intriguing loose ends that keep you wanting to come back.

The downside is not knowing, after the three episodes TNT made available for review, whether Good Behavior can sustain a believable key relationship to anchor the series, especially when the third episode's dramatic tension revolves mostly around whether a Tesla will be able to sustain a charge long enough to get to a power station.

That last part puts a bit of an obvious dent in the enthusiasm that the pilot generates, but it doesn't completely undercut the better parts of the series. Based on a collection of novellas by author Blake Crouch (Wayward Pines, Dark Matter), focusing on the character of Letty Dobesh (Dockery), Good Behavior kicks off as maybe the best drama pilot TNT has produced since Southland, while Dockery's new direction as a bad girl is wonderfully realized — and a very welcome relief for anyone tired of the reserved Lady Mary.

Letty is not a lady. She's just out of prison. She's a thief and a junkie and appears to be a functioning alcoholic. She dropped out of high school in the 10th grade as her life started going sideways, but she's by no means dumb. She's wily and street-smart, with no real interest in working hard at anything. She's got a young son from what was either a one-night stand or very brief relationship, since the father is out of the picture and hasn't seen her in years.

Letty's also got a mean-ass mother, Estelle (Lusia Strus), who had Letty as a teenager, gave her little or no guidance and is trying to make some kind of amends by watching over Letty's son. But she's refusing to let her junkie ex-con daughter anywhere near the boy no matter the emotional toll on Letty, which is a huge trigger.

Into this mess comes Javier (Juan Diego Botto), an Argentine assassin. Or, more accurately, Letty and her mess of a life come into Javier's quite by accident, as Letty has very successfully returned to her pre-prison life of using her great looks and effortless guile to rob people at high-end hotels. Pushing her luck, as always, Letty is snatching up money, clothes and booze from several rooms when she doesn't get out of Javier's in time, then overhears from the closet his discussion with a husband about their arrangement to have Javier kill the man's wife.

This is where Good Behavior finds its dramatic crux, since Letty — after stealing the $50,000 Javier was paid upfront for the killing — decides that her particular moral compass can rationalize theft but not murder, so she goes to warn the wife before Javier kills her.

As expected, things go badly. And they continue to as Javier realizes that Letty and her well-tuned con game can help him on his next job as well. The question that comes up in the third episode (the series will smartly premiere with the first two episodes), is why Javier would want to keep Letty around since she doesn't want any part of his assassin's life and does enough to muck it up where it's clear Javier would be better off without her.

There's not really a series if these two part ways and a complicated one if they stay together. The early hook is that they share an extreme mutual sexual attraction and that plays out with more than a hint of masochism. But Letty pretty clearly explains that the two won't have sex after the last time crosses a line. And yet, perhaps that won't be true going forward in future episodes. Perhaps Letty likes it a little kinky. There's an attempt in the third episode — though not a very convincing one — to prove maybe these two actually care for each other.

And that's really the issue facing Good Behavior — it only works if Letty's bad behavior gets a lot worse and she subjects herself to Javier. That might be the darker tone TNT is leaning toward and could make Good Behavior more compelling as it leans into that rougher corner. But it also remains to be seen if Botto, a relatively unknown actor in America, has the chops (and is given the material) to make something dangerously deeper of Javier.

As in Fox's event series Wayward Pines, Crouch is again helped out by executive producer and writer Chad Hodge (The Playboy Club). But if you worried how Wayward Pines functioned after an intriguing start, you might have the same concerns here over this series' sustainability.

But Good Behavior is definitely worth a few more episodes to find out, despite a couple of keen flaws in the Javier character, who doesn't appear to be nearly as deadly as we're meant to believe. And a key scene in the second episode supposes that very public places don't have cameras or, for example, people who could be looking out windows, which paints Javier as less than savvy about how not to get caught.

But on the plus side there's Dockery's magnetic performance, a thorough busting out of the Lady Mary shackles into a sexier, harder and more externally challenging (and interesting) character. The series also features the excellent character actor Terry Kinney (Billions, Show Me a Hero, Fargo) as Letty's parole officer, Christian. We get just enough of Christian to see he might be an intriguing addition to the mix. Likewise Strus as Letty's mother.

But more than anything, Good Behavior's pivotal fourth episode will need to address how Letty and Javier stay together and why — and it can't take place in a car with a fading battery. If there's a convincing way to keep these two connected, Good Behavior could really be something for TNT.

Cast: Michelle Dockery, Juan Diego Botto, Lusia Strus, Terry Kinney
Created and written by: Blake Crouch, Chad Hodge
Directed by: Charlotte Sieling
Premieres: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (TNT)