In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

good behavior

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GOOD BEHAVIOR throws everything gritty it can think of at the audience and sees what sticks. Much like its leading lady’s performance, the story is a well-acted mess that can’t quite seem to settle on what it wants to be. The show revolves around Letty (Michelle Dockery), who has just been released from prison on “Good Behavior”; yes, that title is ironic, and yes, we are reminded of it at every turn.

Letty is a petty grifter, serious addict, and so much of a mess that her own mother has forbidden her from seeing her son.  When she accidentally breaks into a hotel room and overhears hitman Javier’s (Juan Diego Botto) plan to kill a man’s wife for $50,000, her morality code (or at least something in that general area) kicks in and she tries to intervene. She sleeps with him, naturally, to gain intel , or at least that’s what she tells herself. It’s unclear if she pursues him because her conscience reaches a reckoning or because of her insatiable thirst for self-destruction. Her plan predictably fails, but the good news is that Javier is so drawn to her he decides to spare her life and make her his apprentice. And thus, a mismatched partnership forms.

good behavior letty

Letty, the hero

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The plot has some holes. It feels more like a series of vignettes strung together than a cohesive storyline. While this style offers Letty a compelling character study, it leaves the plot struggling to catch up. GOOD BEHAVIOR falls into the classic cable trope of going out of its way to announce how sophisticated and edgy it is over and over again. The trippy drug scenes are visually interesting, but there are just too many of them. We already know Letty is an addict, seeing it in action over and over again doesn’t advance the plot. She is also told way too many times how much of a screw up she is. Everyone is shouting it, from her boss who fires her in the opening sequence, to her mother, her probation officer, and Javier, who ends the episode telling her yet again how worthless she is. It feels like the episode itself is trying to beat her down when life is already doing a good enough job of that on its own.

However, GOOD BEHAVIOR still has an addicting quality to it. Michelle Dockery is an excellent actress and she brings a full range of complexity to a character that could be easily flattened into a trope. She balances an unsteady resolve, recklessness, and vulnerability all within the same scene. When she calls her mother, high, broken, and begging, I feel her heartbreak radiate through the shitty motel. And when she waves to her son from a distance that she is not allowed to close, I can’t accept that there is anything she could have done to deserve that. There’s just something about her that holds our gaze, that lets us know that she’s worth infinitely more than the life she’s fallen into suggests.

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It’s been a long week

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Her chemistry with Javier is also electric. It feels like a live wire, something all-encompassing and unstable that can turn dangerous at the slightest provocation. They’re simultaneously repulsed and drawn together, infusing their scenes with a depth and restlessness that pulls the audience into their discomfort. So while the story itself may not exactly support why Javier, an experienced and methodical hit man, would decide to employ Letty, a lifelong addict, their connection justifies it, and I’m curious to see what will become of them.

GOOD BEHAVIOR can feel unsteady at times and it struggles to find its pacing. It hasn’t quite figured out what kind of show it wants to be, as fast-paced action and quieter, character-based arcs are stitched together seemingly haphazardly. Its treatment of the main character Letty is also problematic. While Ms. Dockery’s acting commands my attention, Letty herself feels bogged down by her circumstances to the point of paralysis. Her misfortune is unrelenting and it comes across like the storyline itself is trying to punish her for trying to do the right thing. However, it remains well-acted, well-directed, the dialogue is decent, and it elicits genuine investment and intrigue. If GOOD BEHAVIOR manages to settle on what exactly it wants to say, it easily has the potential to become a quality cable drama.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

GOOD BEHAVIOR airs on TNT on Tuesdays

April is a guest contributor for Crossfader Magazine. She believes cold brew coffee holds the answers to life.

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