You really only need one reason to watch USA’s latest series, “Graceland”: Aaron Tveit.
The 29-year-old star is long on talent thanks to his years spent on Broadway (“Catch Me If You Can,” “Next to Normal”), TV (“Gossip Girl”) and his recent foray into film as Enjolras in Les Misérables . Tveit (pronounced “tuh-vait”) certainly brings the right amount of charisma to lead the cast of “Graceland,” USA’s latest drama that centers on a group of undercover FBI, DEA and Customs agents living in a beach condo. The series has been dubbed “gritty” by TV critics who apparently don’t watch much TV, but it is nonetheless quite watchable.
A USA series is never truly dark, neither in its subject matter nor its sets and cinematography. New York City rarely looks better (or cleaner) than it does on “White Collar” and “Suits,” and with “Graceland,” viewers are treated to the sunny, beautiful Manhattan Beach in Southern California. Even the act of grabbing a bite at a food truck looks downright picturesque with this camerawork. While the first two episodes of the series contained enough establishing shots dotted with lens flares to give even J.J. Abrams pause, slick presentation is part of the USA package. Side by side, the network’s characters certainly seem interchangeable, but that doesn’t mean each show can be disregarded. They are the perfect summer shows: engaging, fun and not too serious or emotionally taxing. We need a break after the heavy dramas of spring (thanks for the nightmares, “Game of Thrones”!) and the soon-to-return “Breaking Bad” and other fall shows.
Fresh out of the FBI Academy, Tveit’s Mike Warren is sent to Graceland — the nickname for the condo, which was seized by the government from an Elvis-loving drug dealer — for reasons that are at first unclear. We soon learn along with Mike that he, a type A, top-of-his-class agent who is in good with his bosses, is there to investigate fellow agent Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata), a legend among Quantico students for his high scores and impressive record. We don’t know much about Briggs, but we also don’t know much about Mike and what his time at Graceland will entail. The series so far has played out as part procedural, part longer-arc investigation, with a pleasant chemistry among the cast members — fellow condomates include Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito), Paige (Serinda Swan), Johnny (Manny Montana) and Dale (Brandon Jay McLaren) — and enough humor and tense moments to make up for the occasional appearance of predictability.
They aren’t the ones most viewers are tuning in to see, however, and USA has noticed. Between shooting the pilot and the second episode, which aired last week, Tveit’s hairstyle changed and it appears he added muscle. By the time the credits rolled on Episode Two, the fan service began: there was Mike, waking up and making his bed, clad in only tight boxer briefs. Oh, the gif-filled Tumblr posts that were dedicated to this chore. (As if Tveit didn’t already have enough fans.) Of course, there are plenty of attractive people to look at along with the nice scenery. They have done a well enough job so far, and Tveit certainly can hold his own as an actor. That can be said for other USA guys, such as Matt Bomer in “White Collar” and Patrick J. Adams in “Suits.” But he’s still oh so pretty. Please, God, let him sing on the show.
Welcome to my DVR queue, “Graceland.” It’s going to be a good summer.
“Graceland” airs at 10/9C Thursdays on USA.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.