Review: Graceland 1×1 (USA)

A house full of predictable

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA Network

This is a true story, apparently. Once upon a time, US law enforcement seized a LA beachhouse from a drug dealer. However, rather than sell it, the agency decided to keep it as a safehouse. More than that, they decided to let other agencies use it, and before you knew what had happened, suddenly you had a whole bunch of undercover operatives from the DEA, FBI et al, all living together under one roof.

Graceland, which comes to us from USA favourite Jeff Eastin (White Collar), is a fictionalised version of the real Graceland, although it claims many of the stories told are real events. In it, preppie FBI graduate Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) moves into Graceland and has to get to know and befriend the house’s existing residents, so that he can learn how to be a proper FBI undercover agent. In particular, he has to befriend the Zen-like surfer Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata), who’s also to be his training agent, with the help of “Charlie” DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito from CSI: NY). Why does he have to do this? Well, that’s a secret.

Now, if all of this sounds familiar to some extent, it’s because it’s Point Break. Except not as good.

Here’s a trailer.

GRACELAND is a place where nothing is what it seems and everyone has a secret. From the outside, this idyllic beachfront property is inhabited by a group of young, diverse roommates. Inside, a vastly different world is exposed: one that sustains itself through a complex web of lies. USA’s new original series Graceland delves into the lives of an elusive group of undercover agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and US Customs, who live and operate under one roof (the house got its name because the drug lord from whom the authorities seized the property was known to be an obsessed Elvis Presley fan). When forced to give up any shred of normalcy and the question of trust is a matter of life or death, the house becomes their sanctuary, their “Graceland.”

Graduating at the top of his class, FBI rookie, Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) anticipates a traditional DC desk job when he’s unexpectedly shipped to “Graceland.” Immediately thrown into his first undercover assignment, he relies heavily on the guidance of legendary FBI agent and mentor Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata). Briggs is an unusually Zen senior agent who notoriously hates the rule book and will go to any length to protect “Graceland” from the outside world.

With an ensemble cast, the series also features Vanessa Ferlito as strong-willed FBI agent Catherine “Charlie” DeMarco, Brandon Jay McLaren as quick-tempered US Customs agent Dale Jakes, Serinda Swan as intuitive and merciless DEA Agent Paige Arkin and Manny Montana as the fun-loving prankster FBI agent Joe “Johnny” Tuturro. From Fox Television Studios, Jeff Eastin serves as creator and executive producer.

Is it any good?
There’s little that’s very bad about it, but there’s also very little that goes beyond the bland, predictable and unoriginal.

The set-up with the house of agents is essentially all the originality the show has. You’ll have seen undercover before, done better in shows like Wiseguy and Dark Blue (and that’s not saying much). You’ll have seen cop bromance done before, particularly in White Collar.

And that’s really all there is to the show. It’s all “quick, let’s invent a cover story and stick it in the database ASAP before the crims have a chance to check it” and “I’m going to pretend to do something bad but not actually bad now in order to preserve my cover.” The closest it ever comes to edgy is when one character shoots a guy who had
a gun but he couldn’t see the gun. Ooh, shades of grey or what? Take a bribe, take a drug, shoot a civilian or anything else that might cross the line of legality? Not a chance.

The characters aren’t much to write home about and neither are the cast, with perhaps the exceptions of Sunjata and Ferlito, who manage to convey a certain depth the others don’t. Tveit is perfectly cast as the preppie FBI graduate; unfortunately, as a stone cold crim impersonator, he’s about as convincing as Ryan Phillippe. However, so far, it’s pretty much a three-way bromance between Sunjata, Tveit and Manny Montana, with Ferlito left to provide sage advice, while the others go off and surf together. Serinda Swan (Breakout Kings, where she also replaced another established actress) is the other top-billed female star, but she’s a no-show so far, leaving Graceland‘s other female character little to do except be antagonistic and pine after her wounded partner.

Other than the set-up and the promise that perhaps not everything you see on-screen is ludicrous because it might have really happened, there’s very little to Graceland to commend it. It’s unchallenging, doesn’t have the ‘characters’ you’d expect of a USA show and it isn’t even that fun. There are no insights into being an undercover cop that you couldn’t have worked out for yourself, assuming you’ve lied about something at least once in your life. The central dilemma for Tveit’s character in future – should he spy on his mentor, who might be ever so slightly willing to bend the rules ever such a teeny tiny amount? –  is a minor tension at best. The show’s also a colossal sausagefest in which female characters stand on the sidelines administering make-up to Tveit and having showers.

On the other hand, it is a summer show, so expecting challenging and dark is probably a bad idea anyway, and maybe that’s not what y’all want to be watching, either. All the same, for USA’s big new show, it’s a major disappointment.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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