What Have You Done With Our Lady Mary?

There is precious little good behavior in “Good Behavior,” the new drama series premiering next week on TNT that stars Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey.”

She was the elegant, ultra-cool and sometimes cruel Lady Mary of “Downton,” known for her romance with the dashing Matthew Crawley and her putdowns of her homelier sister Edith.

Her new role as a crack-smoking ex-con, con woman, thief and vagabond drifter in “Good Behavior” would appear to be one of those career moves an actor or actress makes in the wake of a notable role that is supposed to demonstrate the full range of his or her abilities and make them resistant to typecasting. Although Lady Mary had her secrets and schemes, she was nothing like Letty Raines, the flawed character Dockery plays in “Good Behavior” (the title being ironic, evidently).



For openers, she's a southern American, not a British aristocrat. In “Good Behavior,” you will see the actress formerly known as Lady Mary in all sorts of compromising positions -- drinking, drugging, shoplifting, burglarizing hotel rooms, picking pockets and having steamy, explicit sex.

With this show, and last summer's “Animal Kingdom” starring Ellen Barkin as the grotesque matriarch of a southern California family of criminals, TNT seems to be doing its best to become basic cable's next FX. It is a dubious goal that should be rethought.

The characters in “Good Behavior” even have a predilection for four-letter words, some that you are allowed to say on basic cable these days and others that you are not. They utter the f-word rather frequently, for example, but the word is not heard (although you don’t have to be an expert lip-reader to figure it out). Presumably, it gets restored in the streaming and on-demand versions of the show.

Much will be made by critics and viewers about Michelle Dockery's transformation from wealthy castle-dweller to flawed, drug-addicted grifter. She is not a letdown in the role, but the show itself is -- a letdown, I mean.

It's one of those “character study” shows that invite us, in this particular instance, to wallow in the swamp that is Letty's life. She is newly sprung from jail. She works as a waitress in a diner in North Carolina where obnoxious men hit on her and part of her duties is to clean toilets. She has a parole officer named Christian who seems to have Letty’s best interests at heart. 

She has a son who a court-mandated restraining order prohibits her from visiting. The son lives with Letty's mother, who apparently detests her. Letty struggles with addictions to alcohol and drugs, and often listens to various self-help audio products designed to inspire her to resist the temptations of hard liquor and crack cocaine. In the show, she is seen listening to these recordings while -- irony of ironies -- consuming these very same substances.

In the premiere episode (the first of two airing back-to-back on premiere night next Tuesday), Letty becomes involved with a contract killer, putting her in a position to become an accessory to one or more murders, when she would prefer to restrict her criminal activities to simple grifting and pickpocketing.

The show suffers from moments of clichéd writing and faulty storytelling. People’s actions and behaviors don’t often make a whole lot of sense, nor do certain plot devices.

For example, Letty becomes trapped in a hotel closet during one of her burglaries and overhears the contract killer making final arrangements with a client. He falls asleep and she sneaks out. The sound of a heavy hotel door opening and closing just a few feet away from where he is sleeping doesn’t seem to wake him or make him stir in any way. The scene was one of many that do not play credibly.

The life of Letty Raines is certainly an unhappy one. It is an addict’s journey of seedy motel rooms and truck-stop drug deals. And it rains a lot too. Why TNT feels anyone will care to join Letty on her miserable life’s journey is anybody’s guess.

 “Good Behavior” premieres Tuesday (Nov. 15) at 9 p.m. Eastern on TNT. 

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