There are genre formulas. If you’ve watched network police procedurals, medical dramas, or nighttime soaps, you know this. Now, with branding so critical in the age of a zillion TV channels, many channels have developed their own distinct formulas, too. Think Bravo, whose every series seems to feature impossibly superficial people, fabulous furniture, and fast editing; think TLC, with its carny freak atmosphere.
And think USA, which has become the sunny caper channel. With dramedies such as “White Collar,” “Psych,” and “Royal Pains,” USA has created a distinctively chipper line of shows. The plots are breezy, the locations are vivid, the sky is blue, and the bad guys aren’t particularly scary. The writing must be only moderately ambitious — it cannot exceed that.
The newest member of the USA family is “Graceland,” and it fits into the fold perfectly. The show, which premieres on Thursday night at 10, is meant to be a slightly darker version of the USA formula, with government agents who go after drug dealers and harbor secrets. But trust me, it’s still a bright affair, not least of all because it’s set in an architecturally glorious beachfront property in Southern California and a few characters are seen surfing away their tensions. From “White Collar” executive producer Jeff Eastin, “Graceland” is an unchallenging blend of simplistic characters, easy-to-follow stories, and ocean views. It’s pretty average, and proud of it.
The beachfront residence, called Graceland, was seized from a drug lord (who was obsessed with Elvis Presley), and it is now housing six undercover agents from the FBI, the DEA, and US Customs. They live together as roommates, which, with the spectacular interior design, lends the series a touch of MTV’s “The Real World.” They spar and spat and flirt, but when it comes to business, they are, of course, professional and top-notch, the best of the best.
As in so many new series, we are introduced to the characters through a rookie newcomer. Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) shows up at the house to replace an injured agent, and he is met with resentment, snobbery, and hazing — for a few minutes, that is, until we learn that the Graceland folks are good people deep down. Mike is particularly interested in getting to know Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata), a legendary FBI agent who doesn’t play by the rules but always seems to come out on top. But Paul is a man of mystery, and it will be weeks or even seasons before his secrets emerge. Sunjata, from “Rescue Me,” is fine, as is everyone else in the cast; fine and run-of-the-mill.
In the premiere, Mike must jump into deep undercover work, and the gang, including the two women in the house, FBI agent Catherine DeMarco (Vanessa Ferlito) and DEA agent Paige Arkin (Serinda Swan), give him lots of ace support. When it comes to the job, the “Graceland” agents don’t fool around. There’s beer and a bonfire on the beach, once the case of the week has been solved.