The caliber of USA’s dramas has been steadily getting better over the past few years, and last summer’s Graceland continues that trend. A gritty crime drama, it has intriguing, layered characters operating in gray areas with long arcs, no goofy case-of-the-week stuff that used to be the network’s hallmark. Created by White Collar brain Jeff Eastin, and based on a true story, this show follows FBI, DEA, and Customs agents living together in a government-seized beach house that shares the moniker of the series.
The setting is very pretty. The house is impressive, with great views, and letting the characters spend time in the sand and waves is fun for the viewer, too. But there’s a dark edge to this location, too, knowing that it was once the site of some bad dealings, and this tone lives on today, underneath the surface of the friendly banter. While the housemates seem to get along well enough, there are some secrets that could unravel the whole thing. Perhaps keeping the name Graceland, which came about because of the previous owner’s Elvis obsession, is an intentional, constant reminder that everything is not as peaceful as it seems.
Our protagonist is Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit, Gossip Girl), a recent Quantico grad who requests an assignment in D.C., but is ordered to GRACELAND instead. The reason for this is that Mike’s bosses suspect grizzled veteran Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, Rescue Me, Grey’s Anatomy), Mike’s new immediate superior, of illicit activity, and want Mike to find out definitively. We soon see that there may be some truth to the charges, and much of this first season is not only about the internal investigation, but also the shifting dynamic between the two men. What Mike will file in his report is not cut and dry, and he has to decide if Paul deserves to be put away.
Mike’s and Paul’s roommates include: Johnny (Manny Montana, East L.A.), the class clown and friend to everyone, who puts Mike through some affectionate hazing; Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito, CSI: NY), who has been undercover as a junkie, and is good with the makeup and mothering; DEA operative Paige (Serinda Swan, Breakout Kings), who does not appear in the pilot, but comes back in and befriends Mike; and Dale (Brandon Jay McLaren, Falling Skies, The Killing), the territorial customs agent.
If I have one complaint about Graceland‘s first year is that Charlie, Johnny, Paige, and Dale aren’t nearly as well developed as Mike and Paul. They all have their moments, of course, but this isn’t a true ensemble piece, with character development taking a much heavier focus on the leads. There is some tension between Mike and others, one of whom finds out what’s going on, but I look forward to an expansion of the supporting players in season two this summer, similar to how Suits began and then grew.
Story-wise, the pacing is a bit slow in some places, with twists coming pretty spaced out and the tension being more of a slow-burn than constant action. There is a romantic thread which is pretty cool because of the complications it causes. Smaller cases, tossed in from time to time in a Burn Notice-esque fashion where the characters sometimes shouldn’t help but can’t stop themselves from doing so, keep it from being boring. Overall, it’s a pretty engrossing story, several notches above most USA fare, and has shown clear signs of not sticking to a status quo in the long-term, a promising sign.
This three-disc DVD release has all twelve episodes of the first season, as well as deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a ten-minute featurette on “The Real Graceland.” The latter is interesting, talking about the process of making the show and how the actors relate to the true source material. Ten minutes does seem quite short and the extra doesn’t go very deep, but its the only bonus of note included.
Graceland – The Complete First Season is available now.
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