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Cop show Graceland so good it might not last

by Michael Storey | June 6, 2013 at 2:04 a.m.

The first thing you need to know about USA’s summer cop show Graceland is that it has nothing to do with Elvis.

You’d be hard-pressed not to know something about the new series, because USA has had an unprecedented publicity campaign up and running for eight months.

Find out what all the fuss is about at 9 p.m. today. The drama is serialized, so get in on the ground floor or be lost.

Just in case all the hype has missed you, Graceland is (another) crime-busting show being touted as “inspired by a true story,” although I’m told it’s very, very loosely based.

USA is also labeling it “gritty.” That translates into lots of blood and guts, so keep the small fry in the other room.

The drama comes from executive producer and White Collar creator Jeff Eastin and stars Daniel Sunjata (Rescue Me) and Aaron Tveit (Les Miserables) as two members of a covert and disparate band of undercover agents from the FBI, DEA and U.S. Customs living together in a confiscated Southern California beachfront safe house called Graceland.

The spiffy quarters got its name when the feds seized it from a drug kingpin who happened to be obsessed with Elvis.

The drama? USA tells us, “With three agencies living under one roof, ordinary roommate issues are amplified, as secrets are a matter of life or death.”

From the outside, this stylish property appears to be inhabited by a group of young, diverse roommates. But inside, a vastly different world is exposed - “one that sustains itself through a complex web of lies.”

When their jobs force them to give up any shred of normalcy, Graceland becomes their one true sanctuary.

The safe house is the series gimmick - the twist on the standard undercover cop police procedural formula.

Tveit plays newbie Mike Warren as the series gets under way. Graduating at the top of his class, the FBI rookie assumes he’ll get a traditional Washington desk job to begin his career. Instead, he’s unexpectedly shipped to Graceland, where he’s immediately thrown into his first undercover assignment.

Warren is forced to rely heavily on the guidance of his mentor, legendary FBI agent Paul Briggs (Sunjata).

Graceland makes good use of Sunjata’s easy charm and athletic prowess.

USA says, “Briggs is an unusually Zen-like senior agent who notoriously hates the rule book and will go to any length to protect Graceland from the outside world.” Briggs also has a nasty, secret habit that is slowly revealed as we go along.

There is an outstanding supporting ensemble that elevates Graceland above the usual veteran/rookie buddy cop series.

Vanessa Ferlito (WallStreet: Money Never Sleeps) portrays strong-willed DEA agent Catherine “Charlie” Lopez. Brandon Jay McLaren (Fallen Skies) is quick-tempered U.S. Customs agent Dale Jakes. For comic relief, there’s Manny Montana (Chicago Code) as the fun-loving FBI agent Joe “Johnny” Tuturro; and Serinda Swan (Breakout Kings) as intuitive and serious-minded DEA agent Paige Arkin.

About the series, Eastin told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s a show with sharp edges. There’s normal roommate problems like fighting over orange juice, and then there’s heroin use in the very next scene.” Finally, Eastin expressed a concern that I’ve often experienced whenever I enjoy a series too much.

“My biggest fear is that this story is too good for TV, that audiences will find it unbelievable,” Eastin said. “It’s literally too good to be true. But it is.”

That may sound a bit like executive producer hyperbole, but I don’t know how many shows I’ve seen die because they were too sophisticated or nuanced for a mass audience looking for car crashes, gun play and the perp nabbed at the end of the episode.

I’ve seen only the pilot and was impressed. I don’t know whether I’m ready to elevate the series to the Next Big Thing, but I do have it on my DVR list. That’s high praise from a TV critic.

Burn Notice. Graceland is being paired with the Season 7 - the final season - premiere of Burn Notice, which debuts at 8 p.m. today as a lead-in to the new series.

Burn Notice debuted in 2007 and has enjoyed a decent run on USA. The final season will have only 13 episodes.

Without giving too much away, in the first new episode we discover that at the end of last season Michael made a deal with the CIA to save his team. That deal has Fiona understandably miffed.

Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) has also been off doing secret anti-terrorist stuff for the CIA - so secret that Sam (Bruce Campbell), Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Jesse (Coby Bell) haven’t seen him in almost a year and suspect that something is very, very wrong.

Drama ensues.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. E-mail:

Weekend, Pages 32 on 06/06/2013

Print Headline: Cop show Graceland so good it might not last

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