Darlings, this one’s simply not getting enough attention, as far as we’re concerned. We’ve podcasted about it several times, and we’ll have a special podcast devoted to it in the coming week, but with our coverage of The Crown wrapping up soon, we figure it’s time to turn to the other Downton Abbey-adjacent series currently on our radar, TNT’s Good Behavior.
We’re not the only one who see it, right? The Crown is just DA with the dials turned up to eleven and we all know it, don’t we? Two jealous sisters, a beloved but befuddled father, a sensitive but occasionally devious mother and a domineering and imperious grandmother? They made the rooms bigger and the stakes higher, but it’s very much taking its cues from the biggest UK television export of the last decade. And so is Good Behavior, although you’d never know it at first glance.
It’s a little hard to nail down exactly what genre this show is operating under (“rom com family melodrama with dead bodies” comes closest), but it’s very much on the opposite side of the globe to the gentle struggles of the Crawley family of Yorkshire. Literally. So yes, maybe the comparison is strained or paper thin, maybe we’re too bedazzled by any actress this good at playing a lovable bitch, maybe we’re suckers for a good marketing ploy, or maybe we just melt at the sight of an A-plus wig game, but if we say Good Behavior is Downton Abbey with fewer servants, more meth and a metric fuck tonne of salty language, then by god, we’ll plant our flag and stand by it.
Anyway, we went off on a tangent there, but our point is, Michelle Dockery, late of Downton Abbey (as its arguable lead, the mercurial, maddening and sometimes downright mean Lady Mary Crawley), is back with a new series and she’s a total c-word in it.
Hey, we didn’t say it. She did. Along with a whole lot of other decidedly un-Lady Mary-like utterances and actions. It’s the biggest cliche in Hollywood advertising, but a huge part of the appeal of Good Behavior really is “MICHELLE DOCKERY AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN HER BEFORE!” At least initially. All joking aside about strained parallels to her previous series, the show makes a strong and smart play early on to draw as many shocking distinctions between Dockery’s most famous character and this new one. Dockery’s Letty doesn’t just call herself a C-word. She demonstrates exactly why she might have earned the epithet by being a foul-mouthed disaster of an addict and thief; a former meth-head and ex-con from North Carolina, whose choices and actions have seemingly led her into an inevitable downward spiral from which there’s no chance of her ever building a decent life. She’s lost custody of her son to a monster of a mother, she can’t hold down a job, she’s as addicted to danger and crime as she is to meth, she keeps blowing off her long-suffering parole officer, and she just got tangled up with the worst-best (or best-worst) person in the world for her; a beautiful, mysterious, soulful contract killer named Javier, who kidnaps her because —
Well. That’s the problem with writing a “You should see this” post about a show like this one. The whole point is the twisting and turning of the story. We’ve seen the first 7 episodes and it never really goes where you think it’s going to. At episode 6, Tom said to Lorenzo, “There is no way, after watching the first episode, I could have predicted the show was going to wind up here.” Which isn’t to say it’s all SHOCKING developments in the Lee Daniels/Ryan Murphy/Shonda Rhimes mode. So far, the story never goes anywhere implausible or silly. In fact, each development unfolds naturally on the last one, like a slow-motion train wreck. It’s just that the things the show decides to explore in the backstories of both main characters are not always the things you think they’re going to explore. And with each exploration, not only is a little more of each character revealed, but a little more of each character’s story is advanced. That sounds like a minor or obvious thing to praise, but in our opinion, too little of narrative television really knows how to pace itself and tell a tale that has the viewer engaged fully without yanking their chain or pulling the rug out from under them every ten minutes.
Characters in Good Behavior make bad decisions. Left, right and center. But what makes the story work is the almost instant repercussions to every choice made. Letty and Javier aren’t charming criminals in the Bonnie and Clyde mode. They’re both deeply damaged people bearing the weight of poor decisions and poor family constructs. Over time, you can see that whatever attraction they may have for each other – and it’s complicated – is as much bound up in their respective scars as it is their respective addiction to crime.
But yes, they’re both ridiculously charming in the manner of people who don’t quite understand why anyone would find them charming. It’s a huge part of the appeal (aside from the drinkin’, meth-in’, and cussin’ of the former Lady Mary), just watching these two very good looking, very damaged and yet very likable people connect with each other, against all odds.
But we have to stop right here and make something very clear, because as we look over the previous couple of paragraphs, we’re making it sound like some weepy Lifetime melodrama. It’s anything but. It’s wickedly funny and gleefully nasty when it comes time to skewer American culture, from big box stores to race relations; from middle class anxieties to working class nihilism. Creators Chad Hodge and (author of the book upon which the series is based) Blake Crouch have infused the dialogue – and every single scene – with acid observations, droll asides, and rapid-fire comebacks. There are times when, if you close your eyes, you can easily imagine half the denizens of the RuPaul’s Drag Race work room voicing the exact same dialogue. It’s bitchy and funny. And if it’s nasty too, it’s mostly to the kind of people who deserve it.
We’re six episodes into a ten-episode run and we feel like showing this one a little love going forward. If you need to get away from all the madness of the holidays; if you’re the type of person who can’t abide forced joy and mandatory jolliness; if you reach a point where you feel the need to call someone a stupid C-word, let go of all that stress and watch Michelle Dockery do it instead. Add wine and Christmas cookies and you’ve got yourself a perfect holiday getaway.
“Good Behavior” airs on TNT on Tuesday, 9pm eastern. The first six episodes can be found on demand.