A Traipse Through Television: Graceland

Photo courtesy of USA Network.

Photo courtesy of USA Network.

At the beginning of this summer, while commiserating with a friend about missing Northwestern, I reportedly said as a joke, “Not even USA’s new original series, Graceland, can fill this hole in my heart.” Sorry, Northwestern, but I was completely wrong.

The ads leading up to the premiere of Graceland did little more than say it was another USA series about attractive FBI agents (or spies or cops of some sort, who can really tell?) set in some trendy coastal area. It was another Burn Notice or NCIS. It looked predictable. How many stories about fighting crime can really be told without getting redundant and boring, or on the other end, overly extravagant and unbelievable?

The show revolves around a house, called Graceland, which is home to DEA and FBI agents working undercover in an undisclosed SoCal city. Rookie FBI Agent Mike Warren, graduated top of his class at Quantico, is placed in the house after specifically requesting a DC assignment. His mentor is the mysterious and brilliant unofficial leader of Graceland, Paul Briggs, veteran FBI Agent with a dark past. Along with a small ensemble of other federal agents, Mike and Briggs go undercover to take down a cartel.

What led me to the show, to be honest, was the lead actor, Aaron Tveit (Enjolras in the 2012 Les Miserables film), who plays Mike. I know how that makes me look: shallow. He’s not just really, really ridiculously good-looking though. What can I say? I dig a guy who can act and sing. However, while I expected your average criminal of the week cop drama with an unrealistically hunky lead, I received instead something much, much better.

Graceland, to be quite frank, blew me away. The plot twists are shocking without being over the top. You aren’t going to want spoilers, so you’ll have to trust me, they’re great. The action scenes are fewer than your average USA show (even Royal Pains had one explosion, and that show is about a doctor in the Hamptons), but the lack of an explosion at every turn is refreshing and realistic. Don’t get too disappointed if you’re an action fan though; there’s plenty of bloodshed and fighting. While fighting a drug supplier, Mike even does a flip off a wall that’s pretty awesome.

What really gets me is the cast. Aaron Tveit does an outstanding job portraying Mike, who’s a good guy but used as a pawn in a game much bigger than he is. He isn’t your typical emotionally stunted do-gooder either, crusading for the betterment of mankind. Within the first three episodes, Mike sobs over a witnessed tragedy concerning a criminal (no spoilers on the event; it made me cry too).  His emotional displays are realistic and completely unexpected for a character of his kind. However, if Mike is still your favorite character after a couple episodes, you haven’t been paying attention. Each character is wonderfully complex, and faced with their own no-win situations, reacting as a human would rather than as an archetypal hero. Charlie specifically has her own tumultuous plot line. As important as the action is (and it is crucial), the real drama takes place in the relationships between the characters. Often the line between work and home is blurred and crossed. Personal drama is dragged into the field, but more importantly cover identities and secrets come home.

In my time I’ve experienced nearly every cop drama under the sun, but Graceland is by far the best one I’ve seen to date. It’s as much about working undercover for a drug lord as it is about a bunch of different people living in a house together. Through the personal drama and the undercover work, each character remains profoundly human. It’s refreshing and captivating in a genre full of over the top heroes and excessively brooding types.

If you’d like to watch a show about a group of people who bring down drug lords together and then afterwards sit around a campfire drinking beer, Graceland is for you.

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