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USA unveils new summer crime show, 'Graceland'

BBC America meanwhile joins the zombie craze with the very watchable "In the Flesh."

Daniel Sunjata (left) makes a point to Aaron Tveit, both playing undercover FBI agents sharing surf, sand and a tense house.
Daniel Sunjata (left) makes a point to Aaron Tveit, both playing undercover FBI agents sharing surf, sand and a tense house.Read more

GRACELAND. 10 p.m. today, USA

IN THE FLESH. 10 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday, BBC America

USA'S STILL the "blue skies" network, but sea and sun come at a price in its latest drama, "Graceland," which premieres tonight immediately after the final-season opener of "Burn Notice."

Loosely based on actual events involving a government-seized beachfront property used to house federal agents, "Graceland" stars Aaron Tveit ("Les Miserables") as Mike Warren, a rookie FBI agent who finds himself thrown into the deep end when he's assigned to live and work with undercover veteran Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata, "Rescue Me"), along with others from the FBI, DEA and Customs.

The show's title, briefly explained in the first few minutes, is there mostly because creator Jeff Eastin ("White Collar") liked it better than "Safe House," so don't waste time looking for Elvis. He's definitely left the building.

Train your eyes instead on Briggs, the No. 1 secret-keeper in a house where it's hard to keep them, although its inhabitants lie for a living. (Among the roommates are characters played by Vanessa Ferlito, Serinda Swan, Brandon Jay McLaren and Manny Montana, while Jay Karnes, of "The Shield," plays an FBI supervisor who periodically invades their lair.)

Eastin's dealt with trust issues between partners before, in the "White Collar" pairing of a buttoned-down FBI agent and a charming thief, but "Graceland," set amid the war on drugs, is a little grittier.

If only because there's so much sand everywhere.

TV's not short on federal agents, but feds who surf are in shorter supply and, this being USA, that ocean's not going to go to waste.

The show's set in southern California but largely filmed in Florida, so I can't guarantee which ocean you'll be admiring - surely those sunsets were imported? - but that, too, fits in with the "Graceland" theme of nothing being quite what it seems at first.

Tveit's clean-cut Mike Warren, a top grad of the FBI academy, seems an unlikely choice for a field job that involves fitting in with drug dealers, but he's there for a reason, one that he - and viewers - will learn soon enough.

Sunjata's Briggs is, possibly, future Mike. He's another high achiever who may have lost his way a bit, ethically, in the years he's spent pretending to be someone else to stay alive.

Though there's an allusion to "The Wire" in the pilot, I don't think anyone's pretending that "Graceland" is operating on that level.

Based on the few, non-consecutive episodes I've seen, it does seem willing, though, to pose some hard questions, including whether it's reasonable to expect that the people we pay to lie down with dogs won't ever wake up with fleas. Or worse.

Zombie rehab

Regular readers know me to be zombie-challenged.

I've abandoned "The Walking Dead" more than once. And a few years ago, after getting inadvertently caught in a massive zombie parade at San Diego Comic-Con, I was more repelled than intrigued.

Especially by the parents who'd brought along their battered-looking children. Maybe the family that decays together stays together, but I'll take Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit over extreme makeovers any day.

So I may not be the only one surprised by how much I loved "In the Flesh," BBC America's thoughtful and gripping three-night miniseries about a family coping with the uncomfortable return of the teenage son they'd very definitely buried four years earlier.

Luke Newberry plays Kieren Walker (gotta love the name), one of thousands of people who'd risen from their graves, scaring the bejesus out of their fellow Britons, some of whom literally got up in arms when it became clear the government wasn't going to be able to prevent all of them from having their brains eaten by their former friends and neighbors.

But time's passed, and a treatment, if not a cure, has been developed for those suffering from what's been dubbed Partially Diseased Syndrome, or PDS. After months of medication and rehabilitation - including makeup lessons - they're being returned to their communities.

Officially, all has been forgiven, including any murders the formerly dead committed while they weren't themselves, and Britain's health-care system seems, if not fully prepared, at least willing to deal with a new population with a chronic condition that requires close management.

Unofficially, it's not going to be that easy, particularly in Kieren's small village, where the local vigilantes include his sister, Jem (Harriet Caines). They've been fighting zombies for years and aren't eager to disband just because the war's been declared over.

Will the people who've unexpectedly cheated death be allowed to survive? Will they even want to, now that some are beginning to remember what they did in their full-zombie state?

Kieren, whose problems didn't begin with his dying, isn't sure. And though there are aspects of his dilemma in "In the Flesh" that may seem a little too on the nose, it's a dilemma nevertheless.

Like its much-watched counterpart on AMC, "In the Flesh" isn't always easy to watch. But I didn't want to miss a minute. Zombies and all.

Twitter: @elgray