“Graceland” is said to be based on an actual place in California – a lavish beachfront home where federal agents worked to shut down drug dealers.
But in a handful of episodes the bad guys never question the living arrangements or the attachments. They just test the agents’ loyalty by asking them to take drugs, shoot at friends or run deals. The house? That’s apparently a given.
A rookie – who graduated at the top of his class at the FBI – serves as our tour guide into the beach and baddies drama.
Played by Aaron Tveit (from “Les Miserables”), he’s a smart player who doesn’t quite understand his mentor’s motives. Rather than show his hand, Daniel Sunjata’s Briggs withholds plenty of information, prompting Tveit’s Mike Warren to sweat. Repeatedly.
The new USA series is a cleaner, brighter version of “Rogue,” but it’s unlikely this is going to go that far just to make a point.
The goal here is to mistrust Briggs, believe in Warren and watch as the others either stay to play or fall by the wayside.
Vanessa Ferlito and Manny Montana are the most interesting of the bunch. Like a junior Angelina Jolie, she’s constantly falling for the bad guys’ dares. Like the Ludacris of this fast and not-so-furious gang, he’s the go-to for humor. Toss in several others (one will probably fall before the season is over) and “Graceland” becomes an interesting summer place. (A tour of the home could fill at least an hour on HGTV.)
Sunjata has the edge that makes this seem a tish sketchy; Tveit is just enough of a golden boy to ensure repeated falls.
Many of the opening episodes blend, particularly when the cases hover in the same ball park.
When it strays, we learn a bit more about the relationships established before Warren stepped in. That interests. The cases? Not so much.
Like “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, Warren seems like a guy with a closet full of skeletons. If it’s not true, it should be. It would make Tveit’s work more interesting. He’s a handsome leading man – just right for a romantic comedy on ABC. But here he’s like the good-looking kid you never trusted in high school. There’s something there, but he’s not going to provide any clues. If he’s just the naïve newcomer, “Graceland” loses.
Sunjata doesn’t have the same agenda. You know the minute he appears there’s something roiling and, sure enough, it bubbles out as the episodes unfold.
“Graceland” takes advantage of its beach setting, putting the agents outside as much as possible. They measure up. But it’s that house that needs to be mined. Like the real Graceland, it probably harbors more secrets than you could imagine.
“Graceland” airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on USA.