When an actor has played one role for a long time, she or he may feel the urge to do something completely different when the next opportunity comes along. I can imagine this idea figured in the mind of Michelle Dockery — so well-known as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey — when she opted for her leading role in Good Behavior, premiering Tuesday on TNT. In the new series, Dockery is Letty Raines, an alcoholic, drug-taking hellion whose life has hit rock-bottom in North Carolina.
Navigating the necessary American accent, Dockery plunges enthusiastically into inhabiting Letty, who in the premiere lies to her parole officer, played by Terry Kinney, about being sober. Letty is deeply unhappy: She’s a single mother whose own mom (Lusia Strus) has legal custody of the boy and does not want the undependable wastrel Letty to see him. Letty is miserable in a series of lousy waitressing jobs, and looking for escape. She finds it in the setup for this series: She meets Javier (Juan Diego Botto), a hit man, and becomes first his lover and then his somewhat reluctant accomplice.
Based on a series of novellas by Blake Crouch, who also gave us Wayward Pines, Good Behavior asks us to buy into the idea that Letty will go along with Javier, which initially seems unlikely: Letty may be a hot mess, but she’s an essentially decent person — why, she even listens to self-help tapes to try and psych herself into leading a better life. But if you let the show carry you along — especially into the strong second episode, directed by Carl Franklin — you may find yourself rooting for these antiheroes.
Javier’s character is supposedly redeemed somewhat by the backstories we learn about his targets — the show wants you to think that his victims deserve to die. The pace of Good Behavior is measured — it’s not a slam-bang action show that wants to rev Letty up into a kick-ass hero. Some will find this disappointing and tedious. But I found it interesting, and could accept Letty on her own terms. Dockery is a solid performer, and she doesn’t look too silly in the wigs she’s occasionally obliged to wear, but I have to say she doesn’t exude the command or charm that’s needed for this kind of thriller. Botto’s Javier, however, is a magnetic character, and the two play well off each other. Well-made and with an intriguing premise, Good Behavior might either develop into something worth following, or settle into a basic-cable-drama groove that’s just decent enough to keep people tuning in.
Good Behavior airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on TNT.