Graceland, the new USA Network series premiered its pilot episode a couple of nights ago. The premise is rather simple despite its layered approach. Agents from the DEA, the FBI, and Customs have been set up in a waterfront penthouse, called Graceland in an unnamed California beach town. The penthouse apartment is called Graceland because its former owner, a drug lord, was a hard-core Elvis fan, and the property was seized in the raid when he got busted.
Our agents work out of this apartment in undercover operations and their stories for the neighbors and other locals are that they’re surfers, a Tae Bo instructor, a trust fund baby, an artist, and other assorted types usually found in beach towns. The apartment is right on the beach and has two levels – the main floor has the living room, kitchen, dining area and this is where the agents live and play. There’s one rule – no guns on this floor. Upstairs is the operations center, called the phone room, and the bedrooms, and there’s one rule up there which is – no one with out a badge is permitted on that level – meaning no outsiders which means no local women.
A brand new FBI graduate, Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit – recently seen as Enjoiras in Les Miserables) is assigned, as his first posting, to replace a member of this team who was shot in a drug buy gone bad. We learn this in a rather intriguing cross-cut opening – while we listen (and watch) Courtney Vance as Deputy Director Sam Campbell of the FBI is giving a speech to a graduating class at the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico – we are also watching a meet and drop (where H is cooked and tested prior to a buy).
We will meet the house members shortly after. There’s Paul Briggs played by Daniel Sunjata, Catherine ‘Charlie’ DeMarco played by Vanessa Ferlito, Johnny Tuturro played by Manny Montana, Lauren Kincaid played by Scottie Thompson, and Dale Jakes played by Brandon Jay McLaren. We will also meet Donnie Banks, the agent who was shot in the opening scene. He’s played by Clayne Crawford.
In the pilot, the bad guys are Russian mobsters with ties deep into law enforcement, and Mexican drug dealers. The Russian boss is quite good, but the Mexicans have only a brief cameo. Jay Karns is also on hand as the agents’ boss.
I belive the cast of series is some-what fluid – meaning not everyone in the pilot will make it through all 11 episodes of Season One. But the essence isn’t just who we meet, but rather than what they do and how they do it. Sunjata’s Briggs will tell us that everything they do will be based on lies. From this moment on – your lies are your life.Yet despite this – Charlie will tell us, You’re going to find out real fast – there are no secrets in Graceland.
Only there are. They’ve set up the pilot as well as the series like peeling an onion. Layers are revealed slowly and at the core we are going to discover, as will agent Mike Warren, that everything isn’t always what it seems.
I suppose a current show about undercovers fighting in the drug wars could easily be compared to Miami Vice, or The Wire. Only Graceland doesn’t roll out flashy cars or fancy clothes, or cutting edge rock and roll music. Maybe a better comparison than The Wire might be Homicide: Life on the Streets – only this one is set in a California beach town rather than Baltimore’s mean streets and they’re dealing with drugs rather than murders – although in the pilot – on his first day – Mike Warren is asked to kill some one for the Russian mobsters.
The pilot had a good flow to it. While there wasn’t a whole lot of action, or suspense, at times there was a decent amount of tension. The characters have been set up nicely. As Charlie described Briggs, he went from being a spit and polish, suit and tie type of FBI agent to some one who is more like a cross between Patrick Swayze‘s Bodhi and Keanu Reeves‘ Johnny Utah from Point Break. You know – a zenned out surfer. DJ poses as a Rasta type, he works for Customs. Charlie looks like she’s working in the ghettos as someone wasted on crack. And Johnny Tuturro is like Turtle from Entourage – only he’s sleek and very fit, and more toward wiry and muscular than roly-poly. Lauren Kincaid works to bring down the Russians from the inside.
Though Graceland is a ‘catchy’ title – the series has nothing to do with Elvis, or country music. The writing isn’t top shelf as there were a few times we had to make leaps of faith which didn’t quite work, and other things that were supposed to be a bit of a mystery were far too obvious.
Yeah, it’s a new day with new technology, new villains, and the pounding surf just a few yards away downstairs. And with Daniel Sunjata – we have an actor who played a dramaturg in Smash, to now playing a smart and tough FBI agent in the drug wars. The characters look interesting, and the setting is gorgeous. And yes, we do get to experience some surfing as the camera goes right into the ocean with our boys.
I think it is a tad early to call this series a winner just yet. But I do think that there are enough good reasons to give the series more looks. And I will.