'Graceland' review: Beach boys vs. drugs

Aaron Tveit (left) as Mike Warren and Daniel

Aaron Tveit (left) as Mike Warren and Daniel Sunjata as Paul Briggs in "Graceland." (Credit: USA)

THE SHOW "Graceland"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 10 on USA

WHAT IT'S ABOUT True story -- back in 1992, the U.S. government confiscated the California beachfront property of a drug lord who had a particular fondness for Elvis, and subsequently renamed this resplendent glass-enclosed box "Graceland." Also true: Agents for the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and Customs decamped here for a decade, using the house as a base of operations for raids on drug gangs.


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This series tells their story -- sort of. Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) is unspoken house leader -- brilliant, unorthodox and a very good surfer. He also has a backstory. But what? Ah, that's a mystery. He's joined here by Johnny Tuturro (Manny Montana), Charlie Lopez (Venessa Ferlito), Dale Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) and Paige Arkin (Serinda Swan). FBI rookie agent Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) is a choirboy, but he's also here on a very special mission.

MY SAY "Graceland" is billed as a major departure for USA, with its rep for sunny ("Royal Pains"), feel-good ("Necessary Roughness") dramas where characters ("Psych") and quirks ("Suits") predominate. This is another way of saying, people get shot on "Graceland."

But on closer inspection, how big a departure? These agents spend an awful lot of time on the beach, laying around or surfing (good for mind and body control, we are told; uh-huh). Meanwhile, Sunjata does a perfect imitation of a Sunjata leading character, which is to say rakish (Nurse Eli, "Grey's Anatomy"), stubbled, irrepressible and barely post-adolescent (Franco Rivera, "Rescue Me"). There's nothing remotely mysterious -- or dangerous -- about his Paul Briggs, which kind of misses the whole point.

At first, the pace is slow -- make that glacial -- but tonight's pilot episode (and especially Sunjata) are good-natured enough to make you want to stick around to see if this gels into anything approaching an FX drama (it does not). There's a clever twist toward the end that forces you to wonder whether the real denizens of Graceland ever did stuff like this. Probably not, but it does make it look like it must've been fun, especially when the surf was up.

BOTTOM LINE More sandy than gritty.

GRADE B-

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