By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
8:00 AM CDT, June 6, 2013
USA might want to consider changing its tag line from "Characters Welcome" to "Welcome to Summer."
Beginning with the groundbreaking "Monk," which premiered in July 2002, the NBC/Universal-owned network has staked a successful claim to the months previously synonymous with reruns. During the once slow summer season, they've built a brand that combines wit, sentiment and suspense, and often in beach-friendly locales.
The network, known for its "blue sky programming," has six scripted dramas this year — five returning and one new. As it enters its final season, the terrific CIA-centric, Miami-based "Burn Notice" is now followed by the new FBI drama "Graceland," which premieres Thursday. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, USA has got you covered.
Based, apparently, on real events, "Graceland" revolves around a beachfront condo in Southern California that is home to an assortment of agents from the FBI, the DEA and U.S. Customs. Overseen by "legendary" FBI agent/surfer dude/Zen master Paul Briggs ("Rescue Me's" Daniel Sunjata), it's essentially a fancy (and coed) frat house with guns.
Which we will get to know, as we so often do in such stories, through the eyes of the newcomer: in this case Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit). A newly anointed FBI agent who thought he had scored a desk job in Washington, D.C., Mike is instead brought to the condo Graceland to replace an agent wounded in a sting operation gone wrong.
Radiating top-of-the-class geekiness, Mike's job for the first 30 minutes is to look wide-eyed and confused as he encounters his disparate new housemates: mischievous fellow agent Johnny (Manny Montana), cranky customs agent Dale (Brandon Jay McLaren) and stern but supportive DEA agent Paige (Serinda Swam). The grim and suspicious Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) tells Mike not to get comfortable — it's her partner he's replacing — and Paul seems more concerned with assigning the new guy domestic chores and teaching him how to surf than revealing tips from his legendary past.
Until, of course, an operation goes down in which Mike becomes a key player and everyone reveals their talent, quick-thinking and courage, not to mention a few secrets that will propel the show's larger narrative arc.
USA would like us to consider "Graceland" an expansion of the brand — a darker version of its traditionally light 'n' bright fare. Creator Jeff Eastin ("White Collar") and director Renny Harlin do tart up the pilot with funky camera work to increase the artsy-ness factor and capture the gets-real-grit of non-beachfront SoCal.
Eastin also, mercifully, avoids any sexual-tension-between-agents subplots. But for all its potentially serious border issues, "Graceland" chooses shade over shadow and remains true to the bromance canon — Paul may have a dark side, but he is very clearly a hero. One who surfs, so how dark can the show go, really?
"Graceland" is an entertaining addition to a strong summer lineup in which attractive people trade witty banter and engage in serious work that provides good clean episodic fun while teaching the main characters the importance of love and loyalty.
And what's wrong with that? Nothing at all. A show doesn't need an R rating to be good television.
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)
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