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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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USA, June 6, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


Your typical USA series doesn’t stir up the addictive devotion of, say, ABC’s Scandal (an endless roller coaster) or AMC’s Mad Men (a weekly meditation on Jon Hamm). Shows like White Collar and Covert Affairs are TV dramas that could more properly be called capers: winking, teasing, playful. Just because they’re light doesn’t mean they’re not a real achievement—because they are. And they’re hits. Graceland is an attempt to scuff up the model a little, to scrape off the sparkle and see what you get. It is a drama, with just enough heft and just enough fun. Paul Briggs (Rescue Me’s Daniel Sunjata) heads up a beach house of undercover federal agents in Southern California. Despite the sand and the sun, the area is infested with drug operators and crooks. The FBI brings in a smart young agent, Mike Warren (Les Misérables’ Aaron Tveit), who’s as squeaky clean and untested as a fresh lab mouse. Warren has, in fact, been dropped into a kind of maze: It’s not at all clear that Briggs isn’t himself corrupt. And how long can Warren remain on the up-and-up? What makes the show work is the nicely set up polarity of Briggs and Warren, as well as the charismatic presence of Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire) as a major criminal player. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up the pace, but Graceland is a successful move toward true grittiness.