Summer Pilot Review: Graceland

Photo courtesy of USA Network.

Photo courtesy of USA Network.

Why review summer pilots? Summer isn’t exactly the most respectable time for a new series to be released in television, and because of that, it tends to be filled with strange and sometimes baffling experiments. And experiments are fun to watch, because sometimes they blossom into a brilliant chemical reaction of summery entertainment and sometimes they explode and send everyone to the emergency room.

TITLE: Graceland

NETWORK: USA

WHEN TO WATCH: Thursdays at 10pm/9c

The premise of Graceland wouldn’t sound out of place as a 1970s primetime sitcom. It’s about a beach house (formerly owned by a drug lord) in exotic southern California that houses a group of super hot federal agents who are trying to rid the world of crime while maintaining a consistently high level of sexual tension.

Their shirtless rapport is disrupted by the arrival of a newly graduated hot FBI agent, Levi, who doesn’t speak Spanish but doesn’t need it to reach the hearts of women throughout the nation. He’s there to take the place of a DEA agent who was shot on the job, which of course means his fellow sexy housemates aren’t too fond of him at first. It doesn’t help that Levi is hilariously street-stupid and book-smart. 

“This is my partner’s room,” the cold Lauren says to Levi. “Don’t touch anything, don’t get comfortable.” She then gives him a glare and eats his puppy eyed face for dinner.

The whole show is centered around a classic (some might say overused) dynamic that works well for the most part. Johnny is the friendly one who helps Levi transition, gives him orange juice, and calls him “homey.” DJ is the surly one who hassles Levi for drinking his orange juice and mentions the OJ Simpson trial on the drop of a dime. And there’s Briggs, the one who’s brilliant and aloof and mysterious. “There are no secrets in Graceland except for Briggs,” says Charlie, whose function right now seems to be purely sexual.

Graceland is at its most comfortable when it’s Levi, Johnny, and Briggs, who when together come off as genuine and entertaining. In fact, most of the scenes with Briggs (played by Daniel Sunjata of “Rescue Me” fame) work well, even if his character isn’t particularly creative.

Aesthetically, the show looks a lot like all the other dramas that take place in Los Angeles or Miami. One of the more jarring choices is this blurry, hallucinatory filter they use as a transition in between locations. Drugs are, of course, a major theme through the show, and the editors don’t want you to forget it.

It’s cliché, in case you haven’t been able to pick up on that yet. There’s a surfing scene made unintentionally hilarious by the generic guitar song in the background, plenty of shots of girls in bikinis, and the characters are all regular cop show stereotypes tinged with the occasional racism. It’s not The Wire – which I wouldn’t have mentioned if they hadn’t name dropped The Wire halfway through the episode. The drug dealers are the bad guys, and the cops are the good guys. But this is the pilot episode of a cop show on USA, so what were you expecting?

Is it worth watching? If you’re looking for a lighthearted, occasionally sexy show that only gets tense when it needs to, then go for it. It is perhaps the perfect summer show, almost to an extent where it feels like the fabrication of network executives who wanted to create the perfect summer show. It does what it does well – it’s entertaining and beautiful. Its cast has potential, especially its two male leads. I do wonder where the show goes from here, since its weakest points were all of its endeavors into the drug world – worrisome because that’s, you know, what the show is about. But for now, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Verdict: Watch it.

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