The long-anticipated pilot for “Graceland” (from creator Jeff Eastin) is finally here. With much of the same talent that gives us “White Collar”, will this be a summer of plot twists and character turns? Will the story live up to all the PR and ads?
Graceland” is the story of agents in a safe house in southern California who come from three different agencies: FBI, DEA and Customs. It’s a house that actually existed (or may still exist. I’m not sure.) The show follows character Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) whose first assignment as an FBI agent is at Graceland, training under Agent Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata). We meet all the characters as Mike meets them, and while most of the first meetings don’t go very smoothly, they are entertaining.
Of course, Mike – a guy who’s used to being on the East Coast – has a lot to learn about living and law enforcement in So Cal, including Spanish, surfing and drug-trafficking lingo. And walking into a house with instant roommates, he’s got some house rules to learn (no guns downstairs, no locals upstairs, and make sure you check your name on the chore wheel).
But most of all, he’s got to keep up with his boss. Paul Briggs is somewhat of a legend, having been highly decorated before he was 30. But Briggs has a secret that his housemates don’t press him about: a long absence and a new, “Zen-ed out” attitude.
Mike also gets to learn about his housemates, many who are embroiled in ongoing investigations in this first episode. “Johnny” Turturro (Manny Montana) gives him the house tour: He meets Dale “DJ” Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) after accidentally angering him over a dispute involving breakfast foods; he is told by Lauren Kincaid (Scottie Thompson) that he’s not to make himself comfortable in the room he was given; and he pulls a gun on roommate Catherine “Charlie” Lopez (Vanessa Ferlito).
I wasn’t sure about Graceland when I first watched it. I tend to give pilots some slack, though, because there’s a lot to do: introduce the show concept and all the characters, and pull together an interesting story. What I really enjoyed about Graceland was the character interaction, the superb acting, and the story of the week was an evil kind of fun to watch.
However, while I got the “in over his head” metaphor of Mike continually ending up under the water while learning to surf, I found myself getting tired of the sun-and-sand sequence, and just wished the plot would move along.
Also, I think when a story is about drugs and drug dealers, we expect a certain level of gore and betrayal, and characters with such twisted psyches that we feel that most of the cast could do with some time in a psychologist’s office. I was a little concerned with how neatly the ending was tied up as well, and I find myself hoping that each episode doesn’t have a happy ending. Maybe that’s part of MY twisted psyche? And for a group of people who spend most of their time around criminals and lying to everyone, they seem pretty well-adjusted. But I haven’t decided whether that’s good or bad yet, and it’ll depend a lot on how “Graceland” handles the characters.
Having to toe the line with USA Network’s “blue sky” concept, I’m a little concerned that “Graceland” won’t be able to tell the seedy and violent stories that come along with drugs, gangs and smuggling, and still remain convincing. However, I have a lot of respect for Eastin and Company, and their ability to come up with cliffhangers and edge-of-your-seat storylines. And one of the things that this writing crew – many of them from Eastin’s “White Collar” – have proven, it’s that they can keep you guessing about the motives characters, a talent that will be essential given the nature of “Graceland”. But on the whole, I think this series – if it continues to be about characters, lying and trust – will be worth watching.
Looking forward to episode 101.
Ceil Kessler writes tv reviews, short- and flash-fiction, and occasional fake advice columns. See more of her work at http://magnificentnose.com/author/ceilk/.