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Surf’s Up: Graceland Pilot Preview

By on May 27, 2013
Aaron Tveit as Mike Warren. Image © USA

Aaron Tveit as Mike Warren. Image © USA

Sexy undercover agents, life and death missions, a gorgeous beachfront setting in southern California and lots and lots of gratuitous surfing. At first glance new summer drama Graceland really doesn’t bear much similarity to Suits, another of USA’s smart, slick dramas also premiering a new season this summer. Yet the parallels are present if you look for them. Take the brilliant young Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit, Les Miserables) for example. Unlike Suits’ Mike Ross this Mike’s credentials are very real. A newly minted FBI agent, the by-the-book Academy graduate is thrown in at the deep end when he is assigned to a group of undercover FBI, DEA and Customs agents living and operating together under one roof – the seized mansion of a former drug lord. (And in case you think the premise is too far fetched, you might be surprised to learn it’s actually based on true events.)

At Graceland Mike gets to meet his idol, the legendary Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, Rescue Me, The Devil Wears Prada). Initially delighted to be taken under Brigg’s wing, the senior FBI agent’s unorthodox methods and deeply buried psychoses soon cause Mike to question his loyalties, his mission and even his own integrity.

(l-r) Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata in USA's Graceland. Image © USA

(l-r) Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata in USA’s Graceland. Image © USA

The pilot episode wastes no time setting up an interesting dynamic between both leads which carries a knock on effect as the series progresses and which we feel will shape the season ahead. (We’ve had the opportunity to review the first six episodes). Could Warren and Briggs be the next Mike and Harvey? It’s a little too early to tell, but there’s a huge appeal in watching the new guy get thrown in at the deep end (something at which Suits excels) and Tveit’s Mike carries off the fish out of water routine well.

Rounding out Brigg’s team are Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito, CSI: New York, The Sopranos) a chameleon with the ability to become anyone from a meth-addicted junkie to a classy businesswoman, the tough as nails Paige (Serinda Swan TRON: Legacy, Recoil), fun loving joker Johnny, (Manny Montana, East L.A., Road to Moloch) and the quick-tempered (don’t steal his OJ!)  “DJ” Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren, The Killing, Falling Skies).

(l-r) Aaron Tveit as Mike Warren, Vanessa Ferlito as Charlie Lopez, Serinda Swan as Paige Arkin, Brandon Jay McLaren as Dale Jakes, Daniel Sunjata as Paul Briggs, Manny Montana as Johnny Tuturro -- (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network)

(l-r) Aaron Tveit as Mike Warren, Vanessa Ferlito as Charlie Lopez, Serinda Swan as Paige Arkin, Brandon Jay McLaren as Dale Jakes, Daniel Sunjata as Paul Briggs, Manny Montana as Johnny Tuturro — (Photo by: James Minchin III/USA Network)

The pilot episode offers plenty of action (in addition to some slow-mo surfing shots that frankly make us want to take up the sport at once) as the team attempt to put away a small time drug dealer who is tied to a more sinister organization responsible for the taking out of one of their own.

When the drug dealer blows Mike’s cover, then surprisingly begs him for help in return for keeping his identity a secret, Mike bites off more than he can chew on his very first mission, and ends up placing Brigg’s integrity on the line. However we get the strong impression that Briggs has been down this road many times before and issues of trust, secrets and hidden agendas all add to the flavor in the show’s first hour.

Slightly grittier than some of USA’s other fare (we’re not going to mention the eyeball and the blow-torch) Graceland can at times present an uneven mix of style vs substance, and the one hour pilot episode wasn’t quite as pacy as it could have been. (Did we really need all those surfing scenes?) The show is however brimming with confidence and sharply drawn characters set against a murky world of drug barons and smugglers and gun runners. Simply put, there are a lot of characters and a lot of situations to sink the teeth into.

If you’re looking to check out something new from the consistently good USA Network this summer then we recommend you give Graceland, premiering June 6 at 10/9c, a go.

The series comes from White collar creator Jeff Eastin and stars Daniel Sunjata, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Ferlito, Brandon Jay McLaren, Manny Montana and Serinda Swan.