In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts tonight
Sometimes, I’m surprised there’s any scripted British TV at all. Who’s starring in it, given that virtually every actor in the UK seems to have nipped off to the US to try their chances at having a well-paid career for a change. Hell, even Jeff from Coupling gets to be a an ex-Russian special forces soldier over there; here, he’d be some doctor in a low-key BBC Two drama or something.
So widespread is this problem that even the cast of Downton Abbey are heading stateside. Dan Stevens has been paving the way for the others for some time but now Michelle Dockery’s there.
What’s stranger than their managing to get jobs is the kind of jobs they’re getting. Stevens has already been voicing a supercomputer in The Tomorrow People but now he’s going to be a TV X-Man in FX’s Legion. Meanwhile, Dockery is in a new TNT show starting tonight that she has no right to be the lead in whatsoever, you’d have thought.
Based on Blake Crouch (Wayward Pines)’s Letty Dobesh Chronicles, Good Behavior sees Dockery unexpectedly playing the books’ titular former con and conwoman, a drug addict who’s just been let out of jail and working in a dead-end job in roadside café. When she gets fired, she returns to her life of burglary and confidence tricks, but when she overhears two men planning a hit against a woman, she decides to do something nice and save her.
No good deed goes unpunished, of course, and just as she’s about to end the pain with a bucketload of drugs, sexy Juan Diego Botto turns up with an offer she can’t refuse.
Read that description of the plot and tell me your first thought is “Hmm, maybe that Lady Mary from Downton Abbey would be good for the job?” Ridiculous, isn’t it?
Yet, surprisingly, Dockery ain’t half bad. True, she spends a lot of her time in her undies or implausible wigs, which might distract the viewer from her performance a tad. But she does well with what she’s got and is persuasive, as is Botto.
The problem isn’t with them, though – it’s with the source material. While it’s not stupid, it’s very much a piece of male gaze. Dockery’s character is a typical male fantasy – a bad girl with a heart of gold, who naturally does everything for the love of her daughter and her mother, rather than because she’s properly trailer trash, properly criminal or every bit the sneaky equal of Botto. Dockery’s also expected to be both put-upon victim and top con artiste, but trying to be plausibly crushed underfoot by life yet strong willed is a squaring of the circle that would be hard for anyone to attempt even unbewigged.
So little does any of this hold together that I honestly thought I’d missed bits. Wait… she was a waitress cleaning the toilets a minute ago. How is she now burgling top end hotels with her phone buddy? Was it something to do with that wallet she stole? But he can’t have had any money, surely. What did I miss?
Nope. Didn’t miss anything.
If anything, Good Behavior shows that if you get a good cast together and shoot something in a noirish way, it’s almost enough to fool the viewer into thinking a quality piece of work is being produced. But like sister show Animal Kingdom, Good Behavior also demonstrates the vital importance of something actually making sense, if it’s going to aspire to darkness-tinged mimesis.