How ‘Graceland’ Stole My Heart

Graceland Episode 1 Pilot (3)

With the exception of Psych and the long-gone Mr. Monk (yes, I know it was just Monk, but it should have had a Mr. attached), I have always had an immunity to USA’s blue skies dramas. It’s not that they don’t have their merits, I see the appeal of the bright, luxurious landscapes juxtaposed against episodic storytelling and pretty people, but none of the others have held my attention, not even the short-lived Common Law that I was certain would develop into my new Psych when Gus and Shawn finally retire from the fake psychic detectives business. But then Graceland happened and there went my summer.

Nothing about Graceland should work. Even though the series is based on an actual undercover house, the set-up still sounds preposterous. Agents from the FBI, DEA and ICE all living together under one roof working undercover operations…it sounds silly. Does no one they’re working to bring down ever see them all out together and get suspicious? They work multiple cases in the same town is it really possible that they never run into two criminals they’ve used different covers with in the same place while they’re out shopping for fro-yo? And would the agents all be so chummy since they’re working for different branches?

Those were all the questions I was prepared to nitpick about until the pilot aired and Mike (Aaron Tveit) walked into Graceland for the first time. It was a rare, magical television moment. I knew then that Graceland was my TV soul mate. The facts are these: there are six agents who live under one roof forming a dysfunctional, but loving found family, they have a chore wheel, they set each other up on dates and spend a lot of their time rescuing each other. These are all things relevant to my interests, but all the Mike and Johnny (Manny Montana) hugs in the world couldn’t make me stay tuned in to a traditional procedural.

That’s where Graceland had me fooled. I went in expecting pure episodic storytelling, but the series is not a straight procedural. It’s serialized with procedural leanings–think more Justified, less NCIS. If you miss an episode it matters. There is an ongoing plot between Mike and Briggs (Daniel Sunjata– so good here it hurts) that has slowly unfolded over the course of the season and drawn every member of the house into the fold. It’s a good plot too, not revolutionary by any means, but it has added layers of moral complexity to how the agents operate as they try to prioritize their jobs with their commitments to each other.

For those of you keeping score, so far we have a found family theme and a twisty, ongoing plot. But what about those blue skies you ask? Graceland is pure, unadulterated scenery porn and I’m not ashamed to admit I lap up every lingering beach shot. I promise, it will only take one look and you’ll be wishing you were wealthy enough to move to a beachfront property in Southern California. Never mind the numerous crimelords, have you seen the windows in the Graceland house? While I hate to be (more) shallow much can be said for the overall gorgeousness of the cast too. These are not people you will mind staring at for 45 minutes a week is all I’m saying.

They’re not just pretty though. They’re all terrific actors; there’s not a clunker in the bunch which makes the ensemble click even though they’re in the first season still and growing pains could be forgiven. The standouts for me are Sunjata as the measured, but always on the brink Agent Briggs and Vanessa Ferlito’s luminous, tough and bighearted portrayal of Charlie. To be honest, I have fallen head over heels for every member of the house, including the woefully underused Paige (Serinda Swan) and Dale (Brandon Jay McLaren).

But the number one reason why Graceland has stolen my heart is because the series has mastered the art of balancing drama and comedy. How do you go from an intense torture scene to a house celebration of Sauce Night without it feeling jarring for the audience? I have no idea, but that’s what Graceland does week in and week out. It delivers shoot-outs and domesticity, gorgeous visuals and substantial plots, and characters you want to hang out with. It’s a USA Blue Skies drama that I cannot stop watching, and that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

That’s why I’m addicted to Graceland, but how about you? Are you immune to Briggs’ substantial charms or have you eaten the magic sauce too?

Graceland airs Thursdays at 10/9c on USA.

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