I’ve never been a regular viewer of USA network’s drama series. While I don’t find anything particularly objectionable about them, I’ve never felt a compelling reason to watch. I would occasionally check out the now defunct WHITE COLLAR, but that was a show that for me got old fast, even with all of Matt Bomer’s “charms.” However, I follow an actor on Twitter named Erik Valdez, who I knew from his all too brief stint on ABC’s GENERAL HOSPITAL. So, when I learned that he was the big villain in the season 2 arc of USA’s GRACELAND, I thought it might be a good time to check the crime drama.
GRACELAND was created by Jeff Eastin, who also created and produced WHITE COLLAR. The series centers around a group of FBI agents assembled from various law enforcement agencies and live together in a beach house in Southern California called Graceland. The main action of the show is propelled when FBI agent Mike Warren is assigned to supervise the house and the agents shortly after finishing his training at Quantico. Each agent is battling their own personal demons while trying to put the bad guys away.
Instead of binging the series from the beginning, I decided to jump in at the third episode of season two, when Valdez makes his entrance as Carlito Solano, the closeted, unhinged son of a drug cartel kingpin. This juicy role was made for Valdez and his layered and dynamic performance should get him notice from other show runners. He would be a great addition to the upcoming ABC soap BLOOD AND OIL. The story arc started out strong and I was hooked, mostly because I couldn’t wait for what deliciously evil things Carlito would do next. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, Carlito was underutilized and the drug cartel story started losing steam.
There are so many side stories among this group of agents, that the Solano storyline suffered. Unfortunately, I found Carlito and his father’s relationship more interesting than any of the stories or relationships among the agents who are at the center of the series. The only rooting value I had for the agents is that they’re the good guys, but as individual characters I found them less than compelling. The actors do their best to bring life to the characters but so many of the scenes left me thinking “so what, who cares?”
The season 2 drug cartel arc started off so strongly focused and in early episodes had many edge-of-your-seat moments. But as the story continued, an ill-advised romance between one of the agents, Johnny, and Carlito’s sister Lucia weighed the story down and didn’t have the emotional impact the writers hoped for. As mentioned before, Carlito is “openly” closeted, everyone in his life knows he’s gay but he doesn’t acknowledge it publicly. The most interesting story point early on was Carlito’s attraction to Johnny, even leading the young agent to feign attraction to Carlito and kiss him in an attempt to gain his trust. The show missed an opportunity to make Carlito’s attraction bordering on obsession with Johnny and his jealousy of his sister’s relationship with him a bigger story point. By the end, it was touched on, but not in any impactful way.
My other issue is that although the agents are often put in life jeopardizing situations, it’s clear that the show will not sacrifice any of the main characters and conveniently gets them out of their life or death predicaments. The agents are so preoccupied with their personal issues, it’s no wonder that they rarely take down the bad guys. It’s amazing that any of them walk back into that house alive and they should all be fired. If one of the agents had been killed during season 2, I don’t think I would have cared. The Solano story lingered into early episodes of season 3, which is airing now. The ending was so anti-climatic, I got the feeling even the writers were bored with the story. I’m now completely caught up with the current season 3 story and the introduction of the new big villain has been lackluster. The show seems to be going for a lighter tone this season but the stories are not well focused and many of the characters are not being serviced well.
On a positive note, I will say that starting at episode 3 of the second season was easy. The show gives you just enough exposition and back story to allow you to easily figure out who each character is and what their issues are. This is especially notable given that this is a serialized crime drama. After finishing episode 6 of the current season I don’t feel especially compelled to see what happens in episode 7, but I could see myself possibly catching up on the remainder of the season on a rainy Saturday afternoon this fall once it concludes.
The show fits well on USA and probably appeals to the same viewers who constantly tune into the network’s many NCIS marathons. GRACELAND isn’t a horrible show. It has solid directing and slick production values. The main cast is filled with some familiar faces, lead by Daniel Sunjata, who many of you might remember from the FX series RESCUE ME. If there’s a season 4, GRACELAND will hopefully more tightly focus its stories and trim its cast.
Are you a fan of GRACELAND? Let me know in the comments section below and check out a montage of Johnny and Carlito’s history.