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Teddy Bears & Tension in Graceland’s “Guadalajara Dog”

By on June 14, 2013
Aaron Tveit (left) and Daniel Sunjata in Graceland. Image © USA

Aaron Tveit (left) and Daniel Sunjata in Graceland. Image © USA

The likeable rookie in over his head, the guarded mentor with a secretive (likely tragic) past … do these characters sound familiar to you? That’s probably because they’ve been done too many times to count. Undercover cops sharing a beach house suggests a storyline that begs for clichés, like surfboard abs and cockiness compensating for insecurities. It’s gimmicky.

Right now, these characters are still kind of stereotypes, so we are waiting for them to bring three-dimensional roundness to the roles. Despite that, Graceland has enough potential for us to stick around for a while.

The leads, particularly Aaron Tveit as Mike, are doing all they can with what they have. Tveit could easily be exaggerating some of these scenes, especially when he is playing a fake persona in high pressure situations. Instead, he is refreshingly controlled. He has a good chemistry with the also strong Daniel Sunjata, who plays Paul Briggs.

In this second episode of the season, “Guadalajara Dog,” Mike deals with some ethical concerns as he learns the ropes of being undercover. Tempting as it may be for the well-trained agent, he cannot jump at every crime he witnesses. Depending on the circumstances, this could blow his cover. He learns this lesson the hard way when he is in pursuit of a food truck robber, and is tackled by a fellow agent. An irritated Briggs lectures him on his stupidity, and is reluctant to give him anything but a case with “training wheels”. While Mike may be green, he does get the chance to show off his astonishingly good aim when he opens fire on some unsuspecting teddy bears.

Briggs remains a shadowy presence. He seems somewhat harsh at first glance, but occasionally exhibits hints of a softer side. The rest of the team continue to treat him with a reverence that we have to assume he has earned, though there is plenty for us to learn about him and his past. The mention that Briggs used to be like Mike indicates that Briggs was once just as idealistic as his current trainee.

Mike shows off his skills. Image © USA

Mike shows off his skills. Image © USA

The female characters have not been fleshed out or utilized as much so far, and when they do it is primarily to service the plot for Mike or Briggs. Hopefully that will change in upcoming episodes, as they all seem intriguing enough to be worth exploring. Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) is probably the stand-out, though she needs to break out of the typical “tough, bad girl” mold she’s in currently.

Paige’s introduction in the club scene brings a few laughs. (As a side note – she seems to be the only one who calls Briggs by his first name. Why is that?) Mike proves to be an entertaining flirt, and it’s enjoyable to see them having fun, even if it is for professional purposes. The group all seem to appreciate each others’ company – for the most part. They really do need to work on some better nicknames, though.

By the end of the episode, a suspicious Briggs pulls a gun on Mike. He wants to know who Mike has been talking to. Mike has been doing a pretty decent job of hiding his ulterior motive around everyone, but clearly Briggs has picked on something he doesn’t like. Since the episode ends on that cliffhanger, we’ll have to wait till next week to see how Mike squirms out of this one. The newbie has certainly demonstrated a keen ability to think on his feet, so it will probably be a good one.

Graceland has already started thinking a little outside of the box with this latest development. It would have been easy to drag out and tease this “undercover agent is undercover” plot line for a long time. They still could, but Brigg’s quick confrontation spurs the story forward by forcing some in-house conflict.

It seems like the show is a little shaky on what mood it wants to set, or which genre it belongs in. Is it a dark drama with thrilling, fast-paced action, or is it a little more soapy than that? There is definitely promise for the show if it can avoid the glaringly predictable paths and surprise us. Tune into Graceland Thursdays on USA to see how the attractive agents of this So-Cal beach house fare.