Graceland: TV Review
Jeff Eastin's USA series centers on FBI, DEA and Customs agents living in a Manhattan Beach mansion.
This review first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
It used to be that series creators who wanted a procedural stuck to the basics. Cops. Doctors. Lawyers. But, particularly in the realm of law enforcement, that wasn't enough. Cops became detectives. Detectives became profilers. Profilers became savants (or liars).
Where there once was just the New York or Los Angeles police, there soon came the FBI, the CIA, the DEA, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, all types of counterterrorism units or fictional black ops, ad infinitum. You had to have an angle that was fresh because people were getting bored of plain old detectives.
And now USA is offering up Graceland, about a house in Manhattan Beach that serves as the semisecret residence of agents from the FBI, DEA and Customs. It's the trifecta. And, in a unique twist for television, they are all impossibly lean and good-looking. But at least in this version, USA claims that the story of the house -- called Graceland because it was seized from a drug dealer who had a very big thing for Elvis -- is "inspired by" an actual house that the government took over in 1992.
OK, so there's your free pass. And, as it turns out, even though Graceland follows the same rules of most "blue sky" shows on USA -- keep it bright, with lots of glib asides, a bit of gunplay, skin and some type of resolution at the end of the hour -- it also is trying to stretch the formula by including one big, underlying story.
Created by Jeff Eastin (White Collar), Graceland stars Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me) as senior FBI agent Paul Briggs, the ringleader at Graceland (or at least he seems to have the biggest bedroom, and a lot of people do things for him, and, well, he's charming).
When another agent is shot, the FBI moves in new graduate Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit). Much of the pilot is spent with Warren trying to figure out the intricate rules of Graceland, including whose orange juice he can drink. (His gun-totin' housemates are played by Serinda Swan, Vanessa Ferlito, Manny Montana and Brandon Jay McLaren.)
What sets Graceland apart from other USA series is its serialized nature -- there's a big reveal at the end of the pilot that sets in motion a larger story. We're to assume this show will ratchet up the gravitas for USA, which is why the series also deploys Courtney B. Vance (Revenge) and Jay Karnes (The Shield) in supporting roles.
Since USA has been promoting the hell out of the series, it would seem there's enough faith there to weather this slight course change toward serialized fare. And while it's not exactly Breaking Bad, stepping away from the too-pat world of "blue sky" TV into something edgier is a welcome diversion.