Thursday, June 6, 2013

'Graceland' Premiere Review - 1.01 Pilot

        On the series premiere of USA's Graceland, a group of undercover agents from the FBI, DEA and US Customs reside and operate in the same house and are forced to give up any shred of normalcy and the question of trust is a mater of life or death.

        By just looking at the series description for Graceland, it feels eerily familiar to the typical fare seen on USA. The network had obtained moderate success in the mid-2000s by developing these "blue skies" programs with compelling lead characters that tackle a single problem in each episode with slivers of serialization but never enough to truly challenge its formula. But in the last year or so, many of USA's offerings have decided to take more risks in their narratives. Gone are the days of episodic plots on Burn Notice - which reaches the 100 episode mark this summer before signing off for good. White CollarCovert Affairs and Suits have ramped up the stakes for its characters. And last summer, the network tried out Political Animals - while a flop commercially - was its darkest and most serialized experiment yet. Graceland is the show where yes there are stories that thematically are introduced and tied up in a single episode but each hour connects to the other one as the stakes continually are ramped up exponentially. It is risky and has a complicated narrative. Not everything in this pilot works. And like all of USA's pilots, the episode runs in a 73-minute window and, again like most of its pilots, there is bloat that could have been cut down. However, the whole thing is very entertaining and sets a very distinctive tone for the series. It is dark and the stakes felt by each of the characters are real. And yet, there is also the easy-breezy dialog of going to surf and arguing over the chore that comes across just as authentic. That balance is where series creator Jeff Eastin shines on this series and the world he has created is one I'm eager to return to for weeks to come.
        Much like creator Jeff Eastin's other series on USA, White Collar, the strength of Graceland comes from the chemistry between its two leading men. Aaron Tveit's Mike Warren and Daniel Sunjata are complicated characters. At first glance, you see a mentor/mentee relationship. But unlike the former series, these two are smart enough to investigate and be wary of what the other one is doing. They work together effectively but they also are wary and cautious. Each with either their true motives or their pasts largely hidden from the other. Tveit and Sunjata are both magnetic in these roles and carrying the weight of this series in a way that no other show or project has truly allowed them to do.
        The supporting cast does leave a little bit to be desired. With the extra screentime for the pilot, you would think I have left the episode with more of an impression of those characters. I do have a general idea of who they are but they also aren't as compelling as the two leads are. But then, I can't be too upset because I'm glad that Jay Karnes and Courtney B. Vance are back on TV for a somewhat regular basis.

So what did everyone think of the premiere? Will you tune back in for episode two? How great are Tveit and Sunjata? Do you wish the supporting cast made more of an impact? Share your thoughts in the comments.