Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pilot Review: Graceland

Graceland (Thursdays at 10:00 on USA; Premieres June 6)

I know, Aaron Tveit (Gossip Girl, Les Miserables) is just so dreamy. And now he has his own TV show! It's, like, a dream come true. Except that the weight of said show, Graceland, rests heavily (but not solely) on his shoulders; and if you look at any picture of him, you can tell those slight little shoulders aren't up for bearing that kind of load. Accordingly, Graceland is a bogged-down, confusingly boring little cop show.

Based on a true story, Graceland is about an undercover operation which runs out of a house on the beach; it's a crossroads for the DEA, FBI, CIA, and probably any other three-letter abbreviation you could think of. Undercover agents from these departments live together and help fight crime, from the ridiculously over-the-top (international drug smuggling) to the ridiculously cheesy (international bird smuggling). After a former FBI agent is made in the line of duty, new Quantico graduate Mike (Tveit) takes his place under the tutelage of the once-great agent Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, Smash, Rescue Me). But now Briggs is more concerned with surfing, sleeping, and rum, leaving Mike to fend for himself with his other housemates, of which I swear there are at least twenty; everytime a new scene started, a new housemate was introduced. Anyway, it all leads up to Mike's first sting, which (obviously) doesn't go as planned.

Reading the above description of Graceland, you may be inclined to think this is a comedy. It's not. The plot is so ludicrous (real life often is) that I sometimes wondered how they were taking the content so seriously. And because it's taken so seriously, the over-long pilot, which clocked in at nearly 65 uninterrupted minutes, is a total bore-fest. Graceland kind of feels like a TV version of Point Break, and Tveit is about as convincing an actor as Keanu Reeves. (Sunjata is no Swayze, though.) I don't know if Tveit is just not interesting enough to carry his own show, or if he's just playing up the uninteresting sides of his character. Whenever he's Mike, he's like a blackhole: empty, dead, and totally sucking the life out of scenes. But when he gets to go undercover and play other people, Tveit suddenly comes alive. I wouldn't go so far as to say he ignites the screen or makes a complete 180, but there's a marked difference between the two performances. Unfortunately for the pilot, this switch doesn't occur until about three quarters of the way into it. Up to that point, Mike has no personality other than "chipper new guy." And I think that's the main problem with Graceland right now: no one on the show is interesting.

Throughout the first episode, we get hints (and by "hints," I mean "bludgeoned over the head") at Briggs's dark and mysterious past, but he seems more interesting now as a lawless alcoholic so we don't care what happeneed before. Mike has no personality of his own, so he's only of interest when he's putting on the personalities of others. The various housemates at Graceland are varying archetypes: Minority Male, Minority Female, Angry Black Guy, Hot Girl, Rogue Agent. And their stories are just... boring. DJ (Angry Black Guy) is breaking up an illegal tropical bird trade; Minority Female is infiltrating a heroin house. They have the feeling of being there for the sake of being there, as if writer/creator Jeff Eastin (White Collar) just put them there because the show's premise requires the agents to be doing something. But these side stories are not explored or even really seen enough for anyone to get a real idea of what they're about; subsequently, the characters don't seem like people so much as window dressing. For a USA show, a network which announces itself as being based around character development (their well-known slogan is "Characters Welcome"), this is a huge problem. Without interesting characters, what's the point of watching? USA shows are hinged on this model; there are dozens of cop/lawyer/doctor/federal agent shows on the air, but people return to the ones on USA because the characters are dynamic. Graceland does not have that going for it yet. It tries to be so many things and mix in so many different elements into its first episode (shady backstory, potential love interest, nearly a dozen characters, mystery, undercover sting, and on and on) that it becomes a soggy, convoluted mess by the episode's end when a groan-worthy (and obvious) plot twist is introduced. And without any intriguing characters to make up for the plot's silliness, Graceland doesn't have any real strengths to stand on. It's showy enough, thanks to some cool filter effects that give the impression of being washed out by the California sun, and the action scenes are quick and fun, but director Russell Lee Fine (White Collar, The Wire) can't inject enough adrenaline into the so-so script and so-so performances to make Graceland really worth the time.

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