Scott D. Pierce: Despite a misleading title, 'Graceland' premise is odd, true
When you start watching "Graceland," you might have trouble buying into the premise that a bunch of undercover agents from the FBI, DEA and U.S. Customs share a fabulous California beach house, where they hang out when they're not fighting crime.
But it isn't fictional. It actually happened.
Executive producer Jeff Eastin ("White Collar") learned of the concept from a DEA agent who lived it. He showed him the real house and introduced him to former agents.
"They just started telling stories," Eastin said. "And at that point I was like, 'Wow! I've got to make this into a show!' "
"Graceland," which premieres Thursday at 11 p.m. MDT on the USA Network, kicks off when newly minted FBI agent Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit, "Les MisÃ©rables") is assigned to the house and thrown into undercover work. His FBI superior in the house, Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, "Rescue Me"), is, well, mysterious. The other FBI agent, Joe "Johnny" Tutorro (Manny Montana), is a goofball.
There's camaraderie and rivalry with DEA agents Catherine "Charlie" Lopez (Vanessa Ferlito) and Paige Arkin (Serinda Swan), who arrives in Episode 2; and U.S. Customs agent Dale Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren).
The real-life agents told Eastin "that two years is about the max anybody could live in the house because it was so intense. You have to watch everything. You walk into the house, and it's the only place you can really relax and be yourself."
Until your housemates start hiding secrets from each other. "That's when stuff just starts getting really, really weird," Eastin said. "That's really what 'Graceland' is. The house itself just becomes very much like this small cosmos of deceit and intrigue that these guys are forced into."
That hook works quite well. It's a good undercover cop show times six.
And it's not a bad idea to have the newbie FBI agent be the audience's entry point to the series.
What is a bad idea is the title.
"Graceland" derives from the fact that the house was confiscated from a big Elvis Presley fan but there are certainly a lot of people out there who believe the show is somehow about Elvis.
"The working title was 'Safe House,' which I thought was a little dull," said Eastin, who added that the idea is that the house is "kind of a sanctuary, and 'Graceland' just kind of flowed out of that."
It could have been worse.
"For a while, there was going to be a big velvet Elvis hanging in the foyer," Eastin said. "We decided that wasn't a good idea, but we kept the title."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.