Going in to watching Graceland, which premiered last night on USA, I already had some questions. Why did that one dude look so familiar? Why did that other dude look so familiar? And why is it called Graceland when it’s clearly a crime drama set in New York City not Tennessee?
I am not a cop show kinda girl. Yeah, like everyone else, I get really into Law and Order if I see the first five minutes of the episode (it really traps you!), but I never watch anything like CSI, CSI: The Spin-Off, CSI: The Other Spin-Off, or anything else that airs on CBS or USA. Basically, I didn’t think I would like Graceland and was surprised when I did.
To answer the questions above, “that one dude” that stars in the show is Aaron Tveit who played Trip van der Bilt on Gossip Girl and was also in Les Miserables. “That other dude” is another Graceland star, Daniel Sunjata, who is a classic example of one of those actors that shows up in TONS of stuff but you still can’t place him. He’s been in The Devil Wears Prada, The Dark Knight Rises, and Generation Um… as well as had stints on Smash and Grey’s Anatomy. Also, the show isn’t set in New York, which was just an assumption I made when I knew it was about cops. It’s very much set in California.
Graceland follows six undercover agents from various government agencies like the FBI, DEA, and Customs, who live together in a really awesome (right on the beach, windows for walls) house that was taken over by the government as a place for their California agents to live. It’s named Graceland after the Elvis obsessed criminal they seized it from. Aaron Tveit plays Mike Warren, a recent FBI grad who was sent to CA instead of DC, his first choice for location, after one of the other Gracelanders was shot and had to leave.
Mike really looks up to Paul Briggs, Daniel Sunjata’s character, who is known in FBI school for being crazy smart. There is one scene where Briggs looks over Mike’s paperwork suspiciously in a way that says, “Wait. Why would this guy at the top of his class not be sent to his first choice location of DC?” We find out later!
The other housemates give Mike a hard time at first, some of which is kind of cheesy like, “Hey! Don’t drink the orange juice marked with MY initials, newb!” I’m paraphrasing, but there’s a lot of these type of lines. There’s also a lot of surfing and shots of California looking very typically California. It really reminded me of The OC in this way, particularly of the scenes where Ryan would visit Chino and that rugged-looking camera effect was used to make Chino seem more gritty. I didn’t know that TV was missing a crime show with pretty people set in a comforting location. Are 20-somethings not watching cop dramas? And was the magic solution to get them by making them reminisce about The OC? If so, I think it worked on me and my friend who also watched shared similar thoughts. Regardless of this possibly ridiculous theory, the California setting being a big part of the show is enjoyable especially in comparison to the usual cold New York.
The location provided some fun and there really were some genuinely funny moments. On the other side of things, I got sucked in to the crime-y parts much like I would when watching Law and Order. Mike was put into some very stressful situations on his first day–pretending to buy cocaine, then pretending to buy bootleg Levis (in that they were fake, not bootcut style), and pretending to kill a guy. It made nervous to watch him work his way out of all these situations. The guy he’s supposed to kill, according to the Russian mob-type people he’s undercover with, ends up being the old shot housemate from the beginning who’s now staying in a safe house. It’s classic cop drama, but was truly tense.
This situation ended with both Shot Roommate and Mike surviving. Mike left Shot Roomate in the house and came back out to tell the Russian guys that he killed him. Just then, Briggs ran up because back at head quaters, he’d figured out that To Be Killed Guy and Shot Roomate were the same person. This got the Russians all riled up and pulling out their guns from inside their car. Mike and Briggs end up shooting two of them and the final one they try to get to put his hands up, but then Briggs just straight shoots him. When they open the car door, the guy’s gun fall out. Mike asks if Briggs saw the guy’s gun and Briggs goes, “I see it right there” pointing to the ground. Point is, yeah, Briggs saved Mike’s life because we, the audience, knew the gun was pointed at Mike, but Briggs didn’t actually know and you aren’t supposed to just kill someone without seeing that they have a weapon out. Briggs and Mike later have to lie to the FBI record keeping lady about how it all went down and say the gun was visible when it really wasn’t.
If you know anything about the FBI, I’m sure there were a few plot holes in the situation above as well as other places, but I only spotted one big one. There’s a running plot point that once, long before Mike arrived, Briggs and another roommate, Johnny, were participating in a sting when some of the bad guys started saying they recognized Briggs but couldn’t place him. They knew him by having seen him on the news, but Briggs talked his way out of it by saying, “No. You’ve seen me in trailers for the cop movie I’m in. Look, this badge [he pulls out his real badge] is a prop I stole from set.” And the bad guys believe it! Okay, fine, I’ll go for that. But then, in the present time, they keep bringing it up to other bad guys and I’m thinking, “Not one of these people thought to look it up on IMDb in the meantime?” That part bothered me and maybe there were other bothersome parts for other people, but overall I was willing to go along with the story, even the questionable parts.
The premiere ended with the gang hanging out around a beach bonfire, as one does in California, and Mike getting a phone call that he had to take while out of earshot of the group. The call was from the head FBI guy (is that what he’s called? The commissioner? I don’t know this FBI stuff) checking in that Mike would still be able to do his job of SPYING ON BRIGGS after Briggs saved his life the other day. Mike is all “Yes, I am supremely dutiful. Nothing can stop me.” Then he hangs up just as Briggs walks up and is like, “Hey man. You doing alright.” “Yeah, bro.” And they walk back to the bonfire. Episode ends.
It was sort of a perfect pilot in format because it jumped right into things and that ending was certainly “Oh snap!” inducing, getting you ready to find out what happens next. The only thing is, is the viewer interested enough in a crime drama to keep tuning in every week? The Cali setting was definitely a good move because I’d rather have a sunny location and cute Trip van der Bilt surfing go along with my crime than intense, cloudy New York. I don’t know that I’ll tune in every week because I’m not used to cop shows being my thing, but maybe I should change that. Graceland for sure put up a good fight of catching those of us who don’t usually go for them.