Graceland Series Premiere Review: When Secret Agents Stop Being Polite... and Start Getting Real

Graceland S01E01: "Pilot"

I'm not going to say that everyone loves the beach because I know tons of people who violently hate the beach, but I love the beach, and for every person I know who hates it, I think I know at least two who embrace their melanoma-in-development, so I'll say that "a lot" of people love the beach, and FBI agents, DEA agents, and U.S. Customs agents aren't immune to that sentiment—except the new guy, Mike Warren, because white boy is gonna burn SO BAD. (I feel your pain, bro.)

However: Warren—who's fresh out of Quantico and graduated at the top of his class, because of course he did—has proven himself a quick study, and potential second-degree sunburns are something that can easily be avoided by asking the nice people at Walgreens for the "albino" sunblock. Just remember to reapply, because reapplication is key... and I always, always forget to do it. 

Anyway, for our purposes, Mikey is the newest resident of "Graceland," the swankified beachfront home that the DEA seized from a drug lord with an Elvis obsession and re-purposed for the most top-secret Real World casting call ever. He landed a spot on the lease when DEA agent Donnie blew his cover by literally dropping the ball—which he was supposed to hold in the crook of his elbow while "shooting up" so that he could convince antsy drug dealers that he totally wasn't a cop. Oops. 

Well, at least Donnie didn't die—though to hear ladyfriend/partner Lauren talk, you'd think he had. Revenge this. Revenge that. OH, and don't touch his stuff, newbie, because your ass is going back to Virginia ASAP even though Donnie's cover is blown and he's now essentially useless as an operative. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Halfway through Graceland's pilot and Lauren's seemingly endless bloodlust, it crossed my mind that, as painfully cliche as it would be, at least if Donnie was dead, Lauren wouldn't seem like such a psycho—but then we wouldn't have gotten the OH SNAP moment when undercover Mikey was sent to waste his predecessor, which was pretty sweet, especially once the two decided to work together like adults, Lauren, to convince Mike's handlers that the job was done. I wouldn't be against seeing more Donnie in the future, even in some capacity. Honestly, when he was revealed to have survived his shooting after all, I pegged him for a future villain, someone who'd be angered by the "betrayal" of being kicked out of the house after his botched assignment. Given Graceland's no-clear-cut-good-guys-or-bad-guys schtick, hey, it could still become a thing. But by the end of our first day with the crew, it was revealed that for now, the one we're supposed to be suspicious of is actually Mike's keeper—the legendary, cool-in-a-stereotypically-cool-way super-agent, Briggs. 

I've seen at least one promo for Graceland that revealed the truth about Mike's assignment at the beach house, but for the most part, the ads for Graceland were careful to play up the series up as a sunny, West Coast White Collar with an uptight guy and a laid-back guy catching criminals in a stylishly scenic location—but clearly (and hopefully) that isn't the case.  

I love me some White CollarGraceland creator Jeff Eastin's other USA Network hit—but it never fails that halfway through each season, I find myself struggling to care about what's going on. While every season has an overarching plot, the main emphasis on an episode-to-episode basis is on the case-of-the-week, which is sometimes interesting and sometimes not, but in the end it doesn't really matter because Pete and Neal always come out victorious by the time the end-credits roll. I find that I enjoy the series much more when it's consumed in one big gulp, because the dreaded wheel-spinning feeling is lessened. 

Graceland, by shifting the real focus of the story, at least for now, from catching drug dealers to taking a critical look at supposed allies, has already brought a more immediate feeling to the season, and in the event that Briggs really is the threat that Mike's superiors seem to suspect that he is, our two leads are poised to play a very tight game of cat and mouse. 

My only concern is that the whole good-guys-who-aren't-really-good-guys thing worked exceptionally well on both Covert Affairs and Suits last summer... until it didn't. Both shows started out incredibly strong with their intricate stories and delightfully complicated characters and situations... only to fizzle in the run-up to their finales. 

However, Graceland is Graceland, and I'm excited because it's establishing twisty alliances and character motives right off the bat—something that could make all the difference when it comes to the show's ability to deliver. 

First episodes are hard to judge. I thoroughly enjoyed this one on its own, as it provided an excellent introduction to Graceland: The House and its inhabitants (mostly). However, as an introduction to the series, I'm cautiously optimistic. The reveal of Mike's real mission altered the true direction of the series, at least as I'd perceived it to be, and in this one instance, it worked. I'm excited. I want to watch more, but I'm also worried that once we do see more, that it won't measure up to the good stuff in the pilot. 

That's the risk you run with any new series, though. So I've got my Barbie bathing suit and my industrial-strength sunscreen all ready to go and I'm content just to chill here with my cooler of brewskis until further notice. Grab a towel and join me, kiddos!


– How did the Russians know where Donnie was being kept? Mole? Do you think Briggs is really dirty?

– Sunset Bust is going to be the running joke that keeps on giving, isn't it?

– Any theories as to why Felix didn't just out Mike as a cop when the "family lawyer" arrived to put the fear of God into him? Is it that they they probably would have just slaughtered his family outright, right then? I was a little unclear. 

– Delighted that Mike didn't painfully suck at his first undercover gig. It wouldn't have made sense considering he's supposed to be the "best of the best," but it just seemed like the quick and easy way to emphasize his lack of experience in the "real world." So kudos for not falling to temptation, Graceland

– House rules: No guns downstairs. No civilians upstairs. Respect the chore wheel. Don't drink D.J.'s O.J. Got it. 

What'd you think of Graceland's series premiere? 

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