Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Graceland: The Complete First Season DVD Review

Reviewed by Allie Schembra
From the creator of “White Collar” comes a gritty, tension-laced crime drama inspired by actual events featuring a hot young cast led by Daniel Sunjata, and Aaron Tveit. It seems like a sweet deal when new FBI Agent Mike Warren’s (Tveit) first assignment lands him in a beautiful L.A. beachfront mansion with other young undercover government agents, including his idol, legendary FBI agent Paul Briggs (Sunjata). But loyalties are tested and lives are put on the line when Warren is ordered to secretly investigate Briggs in this action-packed series that also stars Vanessa Ferlito, Manny Montana, Serinda Swan, and Brandon Jay McLaren.

Show (4 out of 5 stars)
When I first heard about Graceland I thought it might be interesting to watch.  I’m a fan of cop shows and this seemed right up my alley.  When the title card showed text about this being a real thing, it piqued my interest and I gave it a shot.  Graceland grabbed my attention from the first minute of the pilot episode and kept it for the whole season.   Seeing stories based on a true operation was so interesting and seeing how the FBI, DEA and ICE interact together while living undercover lives in a beach house in Los Angeles made me question things that are seemingly normal.  I mean, really.  Who would ever think that your next door neighbor is an undercover FBI, DEA or ICE agent?

I really liked the storyline – the way the different cases and sub stories were all actually related and how they came together at the end.  The end of the season left me wanting more and I couldn’t wait until the summer started to see what happens next, how everyone was affected by the happenings of the season finale and how they all move forward.  Graceland is a wonderful show by the creator of White Collar, which is also one of my favorite shows.  I look forward to many seasons of viewing.

Season one of Graceland consists of 12 episodes and the DVD has the complete season on three discs. Here is a brief look at each of the episodes:

  • Pilot – Mike Warren graduates first in his FBI Academy class and is set for a cushy assignment in Washington, D.C.  However, after an undercover drug deal goes bad, he is reassigned to Los Angeles to be trained by Paul Briggs, a well-known agent, who is the only person to score higher on his exams than Mike.  Before Mike can settle into “Graceland," he picks up a case where he poses as a drug dealer.  The buy goes bad and in order to save the family of the buyer, Mike agrees to kill someone for the Russian mob. Back at the car, the driver and passenger are ready to kill him, but instead, Briggs arrives and saves Mike’s life.  After his official debrief, Mike receives a call from his mentor in Washington, who gives him his real assignment – investigate Paul Briggs.
  • Guadalajara Dog – Mike is summoned to the Los Angeles field office where he meets his case manager, Juan Badillo. Juan convinces Mike to become more involved in Briggs’ cases, so Mike proposes an idea to Paul. A criminal named Bello has his hands in a lot of different pots and is looking for weapons and ammunition for his team. Mike goes undercover as a Marine and convinces Bello to buy armor-piercing bullets, but they are stolen before they are delivered. Briggs has an ulterior motive with the case, though… he wants to get another roommate, DEA agent Paige out from her undercover assignment.
  • Heat Run – Mike and Briggs convince Bello they were not the ones responsible for the theft of the bullets. After a team member is injured trying to help another roommate, the roommate’s Graceland assignment is ended and she is reassigned. Charlie meets with her confidential informant, Whistler and they go on a drug deal, but when Whistler tries to increase the cost of the drugs, Charlie’s bosses tell her to cut him loose. Paige introduces Mike to Abby, one of the local vacationers.
  • Pizza Box – Bello hires Mike to teach his guys how to shoot, but Eddie, Bello’s second-in-command tries to tell him that Mike is hiding something. Jakes and Johnny meet with one of Jakes’ contacts, a hippie drug dealer in order the help Paige prove a case against her. Unfortunately, Johnny’s cover is almost blown and he and Jakes end up in a difficult situation.
Disc Two

  • O-Mouth – Brigss and Charlie resurrect past identities and go undercover at the house of a drug dealer named Quinn. They set up a meet with the main dealer, Odin, who is very mysterious. When their meet is postponed, Charlie asks Whistler to vouch for them. When Charlie and Briggs arrive back at Quinn’s, Charlie finds that Whistler has overdosed and died. In order to complete the case, Charlie shoots up with Quinn’s drugs. Mike presses Juan for more information on why he’s investigating Briggs.
  • Hair of the Dog – Briggs hides Charlie in a safe house until she comes down from her high, but she is called into headquarters to give a statement on what happened. The only solution seems to be giving her a bit more heroin in order to balance out her withdrawal symptoms. Paige and the DEA take a submarine, but it’s empty. The drugs have been dumped in the water. Mike suggests that Johnny, who trained as a Navy SEAL, go undercover to retrieve the drugs and introduces him to Bello. As Johnny is under water recovering the drugs, Bello tells Mike he plans on killing Johnny when he surfaces so Briggs fakes his death in order to save his life. Mike thinks Briggs has stolen the drugs from the water and follows him to San Diego where he discovers a big secret.
  • Goodbye High – Briggs tells Mike his big secret and Mike reports it to Juan, who says he’ll do what he can to help Briggs. Charlie goes on the hunt for Odin, but no one seems to know what he looks like. Paige and Johnny urge Mike to break up with Abby, but after talking to Jakes, Mike decides not to. Briggs and Mike try to find a solution to Bello’s drug supply problem and Briggs suggests that maybe Bello should buy from Odin. Briggs and Bello set up a meeting with Odin and the rest of the house is there for back up. But just when Bello thinks Odin hasn’t shown up, Briggs secretly confesses to him that he’s Odin.
  • Bag Man – Briggs as Odin begins doing business with Bello, leaving bags of heroin all over town for him to pick up. At Bello’s drug distribution center, Mike is warning Bello about not knowing what Odin looks like, but before they can finish their talk, a group of gunmen break in and kill everyone except Mike and Bello. Briggs convinces Bello to meet with him (Odin) and tells him where to meet. Mike, Johnny and Charlie are there for back up, but “Odin” gets away after an altercation with Mike. Mike brings Abby to Graceland, where Paige catches them. Abby sees Mike’s gun and questions his honesty and breaks up with him.

Disc Three

  • Smoke Alarm – Mike finds a bug in a photo Juan gave him and goes to confront him. He finds out that a few years ago, in another house, very similar to Graceland, Briggs may or may not have been involved with the murders of five agents by burning the house down. Charlie, in her own investigation of Odin, finds a hotel room Briggs reserved as Odin. While in the room, she is confronted by a Mexican Federale and after checking him out, reluctantly begins working with him. Mike goes to Bello’s safe house where after training the men with an assault gun, the house is attacked by Jangles and Bello is taken captive. After a confrontation with where Mike is stabbed, the FBI finally gets Bello. Mike confesses that he’s investigating Briggs to Paige, who calls Mike a rat and walks away. Juan decides to take matters into his own hands and goes undercover as Jangles, the drug dealer who captured Briggs five years before, and confronts Briggs on the beach.
  • King’s Castle – Johnny wants to throw Jakes a surprise birthday party, but the roommates aren’t into it… and neither is Jakes. On his birthday, he goes to a bar and has drinks with his ex-wife’s boyfriend. The boyfriend has no idea that Jakes is talking about his wife and son and when Kakes leaves, buys him his drinks. When Jakes arrives home, he and Johnny have it out about his birthday. After accidentally killing Juan, Briggs takes the body to the desert and buries it. However, Briggs still thinks Juan is Jangles, until Mike confesses everything to him and he investigates the identity of the man. Now that Bello has been arrested, Charlie tries to get him to give up Odin’s identity, but he won’t without full immunity. Charlie sends Mike to prison to get the information, but his cover is blown when Bello sees him talking to Charlie.
  • Happy Endings – The search is on for Juan’s car to find the recording he made before he died. Mike asks Briggs for help, who says no. Briggs then goes to Jakes for help and Mike asks Paige. Separate leads on Juan’s car send both teams to the same place, where Briggs and Mike join the criminal team, thinking they will find the car and the recordings. When Paige and Mike finally find the car, there are no recordings. Charlie goes back undercover with the Federale to Quinn’s and ends up beating Quinn half to death in retribution for Whistler. Jakes helps Briggs leave the country, just as Mike puts in a “be on the lookout” order.
  • Pawn – In the season finale, the remaining members of Graceland are questioned and the house is turned upside down in the search for evidence. Briggs, who actually hasn’t left the country believes that the Federale is not who he says he is and is concerned for Charlie’s safety. He goes to Jakes for help who initially turns him down. When Mike also asks Jakes for help, Jakes says no, but secretly leaves Mike the number to the burner phone Briggs gave him so Mike can track it. Mike tracks it to a beach house, where he finds Briggs and Charlie have been captured by Jangles. Mike is able to rescue Briggs and Charlie and because of that, receives his Washington, D.C. assignment. But as he’s finishing up a briefing, Briggs calls him and invites him back to California for a “vacation.”
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
The widescreen 1.78:1 presentation of Graceland is really good. The picture was clear and I really enjoyed the way the cameras separated scenes with the orange coloring and fading. The picture was gritty with muted colors when needed and bright and sharp in others. Everything seemed natural and nothing stood out awkwardly from other parts of the scene. I really enjoyed watching this on DVD.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Graceland is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 with English, Spanish and French subtitles. The sound was really great and everything was clear. Dialogue was intelligible and the background did not overwhelm other sounds. The sounds of the beach were authentic and not overdone, and gunshots sounded real. This is a good show to turn the volume up on and listen to at a louder level. It really takes you into the show and is more movie-like than television show.
Extras (4 out of 5 stars)

Disc One

  • Deleted scenes
    • Pilot – The moment Mike is assigned to Graceland. It wasn’t needed and didn’t add anything to the episode.
    • Pilot – Mike finds out he’s been assigned to Los Angeles instead of Washington, D.C. Mike finds out he will be training with Paul Briggs and that someone high up in the chain of command wants him in Graceland. It was a little interesting, but I didn’t see the need for it.
    • Pilot – Mike arrives at Graceland. A very short scene and wasn’t needed at all.
    • Pilot – Mike takes a phone call from his mentor and finds out what his real assignment is. A longer conversation of the scene that made it into the show. It didn’t bring anything to the episode.
    • Pilot – Charlie and Briggs talk about Mike. Also not needed and a good choice to remove from the episode.
    • Episode 102 – Mike hears Lauren and Briggs arguing about her assignment. – It was too much detail and didn’t add to the episode.
    • Episode 102 – Charlie thanks Jakes for arresting her and discusses her relationship with Whistler. It didn’t add to the flow of the show.
    • Episode 102 – Abby sends Mike a text message. Definitely not needed.
    • Episode 103 – Mike and Briggs are at the FBI office waiting more information. Another unneeded scene.
Disc Two

  • Deleted Scenes
    • Episode 104 – Mike and Abby running on the beach with the stray beach dog. When they return back to Abby’s, her neighbor is on his porch and Mike confronts him. Kind of a random scene if left in, so it was a good choice to leave out.
    • Episode 104 – Mike is researching Abby’s neighbor and he shares that information with Johnny, Charlie and Paige. They all band together and find out the guy has a warrant, so they go and mess with him, scaring him. This was a really funny scene. I kind of wish it stayed in the episode… it would have made the deleted scene before it make more sense.
    • Episode 106 – Briggs is home alone in his room in front of his Zen alter. There was no point to this scene. If it were part of a much longer scene, then it would have been okay.
    • Episode 107 – Briggs is trying to make a buy of Odin’s drugs and making small talk with the dealer. Another good choice to leave out of the episode.
Disc Three

  • Deleted Scenes
    • Episode 108 – Mike argues with Juan after telling him he found the bug. This was interesting to see Mike standing up for himself.
    • Episode 108 – Charlie arrives home and is questioned by Johnny about Briggs leaving him to go to Bello’s safe house, leading him to believe that Charlie might be right about him. This could have been left in, but we
    • Episode 109 – Mike arrives home and wants to talk to Paige, but instead talks to Jakes. A good scene to have cut out.
    • Episode 111 – Charlie recovers from her fight with Quinn and sees the BOLO on Briggs. This wasn’t needed and didn’t bring anything to the episode.
    • Episode 111 – Briggs got on the ship. An interesting look at what could have happened.
    • Episode 111 – Mike’s interview about Briggs and talks to the agent in charge in the hallway. This didn’t need to be in the episode. It took away from it.
    • Episode 111 – Mike and Charlie search for Briggs. Too short to really make a difference. A good choice to have left out.
    • Episode 111 – Paige talks to Mike about transferring to Washington, D.C. I’m glad this was left out. It didn’t go with the flow of the episode.
    • Episode 111 – Johnny and Jakes talk. Jakes is telling Johnny about his son. This was a nice interaction between the two, even though it was a little contentious.
    • Episode 111 – Briggs makes amends to the team for everything and then he and Mike have a chat. Then, by coincidence, drive by the pawn shop the next day. I liked the ending used. This was a little too sappy for me.
  • Gag Reel – This is my favorite kind of special feature. I was cracking up at their mistakes and how light they were able to make heavy topics.
  • The Real Graceland – Interviews with the cast and crew about the show. A background on the real Graceland house. This is really interesting to hear how it happened and what it was like living in the real Graceland. It was more of a behind-the-scenes look at the show, than a history of the real place. It did talk a lot about the real place, but it was woven together with the characters and stories in the show.
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Graceland is a fun, exciting show to watch. There are a lot of serious scenes, but just as many light, humorous ones to balance it out. My favorite character is Johnny, who is like a big kid, but also kind of a badass. He brings in humor and lightheartedness and while he may annoy some of the roommates, they all appreciate his ways. I’m really glad that I received this to review, because with the new season starting, I needed to remember what happened. I do hate that this show is only a summer show. I want more and don’t want to wait a year from season to season.

Order your copy today!

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