June 14, 2013

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Graceland”


GRACELAND:  Thursday 10PM on USA

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on GRACELAND:  Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) is a straight-out-of-the-academy FBI agent and the newcomer to a luxurious Malibu beachhouse that was seized by the government from a druglord (he was an Elvis fan), which now serves as both residence and base of operations for FBI, DEA and Customs undercover missions by Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata), Charlie DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito), Johnny Turturro (Manny Montana) and Dale Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren).  Mike is there to learn the ropes–but he soon discovers that his secret assignment is to investigate Briggs.

Episode 2:  The second hour of Graceland, written by series creator Jeff Eastin and directed by pilot director Russell Lee Fine, continues to be more stylish than compelling.  The show has clearly opted to take the slow boat on the storyline of Mike’s investigation of Briggs, since although we meet Mike’s FBI case officer (pretending to be a Bureau shrink), he refuses to tell Mike and therefore us anything about what’s really going on.  Meanwhile, Briggs is clearly suspicious of Mike’s twitchiness, but he’s not saying anything either.  (An episode-closing suggestion that the two are about to have a major confrontation is almost certainly a red herring.)  In terms of series architecture, we’ve been introduced to the remaining regular cast member, DEA agent Paige Arkin (Serinda Swan), about whom we know very little at this point beyond the fact that she’s predictably gorgeous.

Instead, the bulk of the episode concentrates on a case of the week, establishing Briggs as a typical cop show loose cannon who is nevertheless always right.  In this instance, he doesn’t tell Mike that he’s using the hollow-point bullets obtained in a Customs case to sell to a buyer in his own FBI case (thus proving his undercover bonafides), only to let the targets in a DEA case steal them so that he could turn around, buy them back and make arrests in the latter case.  It was deftly enough done, and Sunjata seemed to be having a good time as The Man, but there was nothing we haven’t seen before (usually on a USA show).  No one else in the cast has been given much of a chance to shine so far, and Tveit runs the risk of being Sunjata’s straight man for a while, always one step behind the master.  (The central relationship on Eastin’s White Collar, while somewhat similar in terms of partners who don’t quite trust each other, is more interesting because Neal Caffrey and Peter Burke each bring their own distinct strengths to the table, allowing for a better sense of balance.)

The episode, running a normal 60 minutes instead of last week’s 75+ (with limited commercials), was well-paced and never boring, but although there’s plenty of season left for potential surprises, Graceland seems set on being pleasant summer viewing and little more, a clear notch above TNT’s procedurals, yet not nearly as engaging as the band of cops on ABC’s Rookie Blue who air against it.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."