Good Behavior

4 out of 5

Executive producer: Chad Hodge

Who is this Blake Crouch joker?  First he provides M. Night Shyamalan the source material for what turned out to be a great first season of the Twin Peaks-esque Wayward Pines, then he gives us the springboard for another TV show – wholly different in tone – that seems like it’s going to be some ‘classic’ USA / TNT drama-erotica (e.g Silk Stalkings) but instead turns out to be an incredibly compelling character drama.

One day, when I learn to read, I hope his actual books are as good as the adaptations.

Letty (Michelle Dockery) is a mess.  While listening to self -help tapes, she drinks herself into a stupor, happily does drugs, and flirts with suicide.  When she’s more coherent, she’s also an amazing (and casual) thief, lying at any given opportunity to throw on a new identity and nab some moneys or something more to fuel her slipslide into depression.  All of these actions coincide with her flippant attendance of post-jail meetings with her parole officer, Christian (Terry Kinney), which is a shame, as he actually seems to care for her overall well-being.  In short, to reiterate: She’s a mess.

In the middle of a hotel scam, stealing from specific rooms, she is interrupted by returning tenants from whom she hides, overhearing an arrangement for one man to off the others wife.  Priorities conflicted, she eventually decides to try to disrupt those plans by alerting the wife.  But things go South, and she instead winds up in the employ of the assassin, Javier (Juan Diego Botto).

…And here’s where the show comes with a grain of salt.  Letty and Javier have a believable love/hate interaction on screen that ends up translating into a surprisingly strong bond.  Its very possible that the book details the growth of this bond more effectively, but the TV version just sort of assumes it.  It ends up being a clever trick: We’re led to believe there’s some clear reason Javier decides to bring Letty along instead of killing her, and by  the time we realize that explanation never really happened, their oddball relationship has developed such that we aren’t thinking about it.  The actors pull this off; the script pulls this off.  But they start to test each other so much later in the season that it indirectly draws attention back to this glossed over aspect: Why are they together?  The catch-22 is that the relationship, overall, works, but that’s using ‘future’ events to justify the ‘past.’  This is less distracting than I make it sound, as the character development for these leads is quite stunning otherwise, but it’s a hiccup nonetheless.

That aside, we spend ten episodes musing over the irony of the title, as each character pushes the other to be ‘better,’ while they rebel – or maintain the right to make their own choices – and go their own direction.  Smartly, Good Behavior never swerves into serial killer comedy, or moralizing: The actions everyone takes are shown to have a longer-lasting impact, and yet its understood that we can’t expect these personality types to just buck up and function ‘properly.’  Letty, as the lead, gets the majority screentime, and her actions cam admittedly be maddening, as they’re so self-sabotaging.  But it’s completely believable behavior for an addict, or a trying-to-recover one.

Some cops and robbers stuff and baby drama creeps up later on that nudges the immediacy of the concept down a notch, but the show has done its due diligence to absolutely invest us in the characters by then, and I was continually impressed by how the writers manage to swerve us into this other territory without really betraying our leads.

While the series doesn’t really ask questions most of us are going to be able to relate to, Good Behavior takes a sensational concept – a suicidal thief and a suave assassin team-up –  and surprisingly turns it into a frequently intelligent, satisfying character study.  When it does plunge into some very human elements – family, failure, grief – the richness of the characters (even if their reasons for staying together are a bit murky) makes those moments especially impactful, elevating things even further.