Jeff Eastin: Graceland's Return Has 2 of the Best Episodes I've Ever Worked On

Graceland Season 2 Spoilers

USA Network’s Graceland re-opens its doors this Wednesday at 10/9c, and it’s not long at all before FBI whiz kid Mike Warren finds cause to slip away from D.C. and visit the sun-baked beach house — though what he finds there may surprise him. Guns downstairs? Unlabeled fridge finds? Strange bedfellows? Oh, and who’s the new guy…?

Jeff Eastin, who previously created USA’s White Collar, shared with TVLine a look at the changes that Graceland the show has undergone, all while maintaining (if not amplifying) its darker, sexy tone.

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TVLINE | First, talk about any tweaks that you made going into Season 2. Was there any element that you felt didn’t quite serve the show best in Season 1?
Sure. I mean, look, you learn a lot every season, and you can probably see this in the first couple of episodes, our realizing that we have a great ensemble here. Aaron [Tveit, who plays Mike] and Daniel [Sunjata, Briggs] are great, but we have a really amazing cast all the way through. So one of the first things we did was sit down with USA and say, “You know what? We should really embrace this.” Second, there was a decision to really go serialized this year, to take out the case of the week element and really make it about the characters. So, you know, this year Johnny (Manny Montana) really comes to the forefront, and Jakes (Brandon Jay McLaren) has some great storylines early on, Paige (Serinda Swan) really takes on a huge role, and Charlie (Vanessa Ferlito) and Briggs… well, not to spoil anything, but their relationship has changed quite a bit.

Also, as you know, Graceland was a real passion project of mine, and it was very dark. I said [to USA], “You know I love working with you guys,” which I did, but I was very worried about sort of running it through that “blue sky” filter and suddenly a heroin addiction might become, you know, an addiction to carbs or something. But they said, “No. No. No. We want to evolve the network. We really want to go in this darker direction.” So that was something else we decided,Graceland - Season 2 to embrace this darkness. We touched some pretty dark places last year, but this year it gets very, very dark.

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TVLINE | The way that you left things, was it always your plan to return Mike to a house that’s filled with all sorts of tensions? That it wasn’t going to be some big, warm, fuzzy reunion?
Yeah. I mean, that’s just good television to begin with. But the idea was, one, to show the evolution – that idea that if you left your high school and you came back, suddenly your friends are still there but things have changed. We wanted to sort of show that alienation when Mike returns then dive into the tension that hopefully will make the show really interesting going forward.

TVLINE | How would you describe the state of the Mike/Briggs relationship?
That relationship really does drive the series, at its heart. We say it several times in the first season, that Mike and Briggs were sort of clones in that they both came out of Quantico, they both were top of their class, but Mike has an idealism that’s been drummed out of Briggs. For Briggs, I based the entire first season on the Chinese proverb that says, “If you set out for revenge, dig two graves,” and thematically that’s what I really wanted to see. Briggs started off like Mike, as this guy pure of heart, but the circumstances had broken him. They hooked him on heroin, they killed this woman he loved, and he set out on this revenge path. And what he doesn’t realize at the time — or maybe he does and he doesn’t care — is that he’s done so much damage to the people around him, including potentially destroying Charlie.Graceland - Season 2

Coming into Season 2, it’s really about this idea that Briggs wants to repair who he was. Meanwhile, Mike is starting to realize that maybe Briggs wasn’t so far off, that playing that gray area is a better way to get things done, and what ends up happening is those stories collide relatively quickly, around Episode 4. Without giving real spoilers, Mike starts to realize that the only way to succeed in what he’s trying to do [crack a major case] is to get that old Briggs back, the Briggs who is a master chess player and would do dark things. That collision ramps in the back half of the season.

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TVLINE | Out of the other roommates, who would you say has changed the most during Mike’s absence?
Probably Paige. One of the reasons for that is because Serinda Swan came a little late to the show, and there’s always an evolution of learning how to write for a character. For the pilot, Daniel was sort of the surprise. He’d just come off Rescue Me and mentally he was a lot different from the Paul Briggs that I had conceived of in the script. Daniel is an amazing guy, but he came in just completely different. I mean, I had described him as the surf bum with long Comanche hair…..

TVLINE | A bit more Patrick Swayze-in-Point Break.
Exactly. He really was Swayze in Point Break. But Daniel walked in and literally, two minutes into the audition, Jeff Wechtel at USA looked at me and mouthed, “He is it.” And I nodded my head because he had blown us away by taking my words and completely reconceiving them into this new character. I had to kind of go through that evolution with all of the characters, Charlie probably the second most. But with Paige, I never got the chance in Season 1 to find her rhythm, so it was very intentional this year to look Graceland - Season 2for that Paige storyline, and Serinda herself is very involved with…

TVLINE | Raising awareness about human trafficking. She told me at Upfronts about the storyline she pitched.
Yeah, she’s really big on fighting sex trafficking and things like that, and when she mentioned this to me over the break, I thought, “That’s a really interesting storyline to play into.” And as she may have told you, her character goes to some really, really dark places. I would say that the two episodes that focus heavily on that, Episode 6 and Episode 9, are probably the best things I’ve ever worked on professionally. They’re dark, and beautiful, and they’re really, really intense episodes. I should probably give a shout-out to my directors on those, Russell Fine and Larry Teng, who ultimately knocked it out of the park, and then Dan Shattuck who wrote both episodes..

TVLINE | How does CSI: NY alum Carmine Giovinazzo figure into the season?
I love Carmine. My very first television show was Shasta McNasty on UPN. We lasted a season, and actually people would kill for the ratings that we had back then, which was like six to eight million people a week. Carmine was the star of this crazy goofy thing that got, I think, the worst reviews in television history, possibly, but he really blew me away, so I’ve been looking to do something with him again. [After CSI: NY ended] he called me and said, “Hey, I would love to work with you,” and what I wanted was to really use him in a long arc. So, his character, Sid… I won’t go into too much detail but he really becomes our Big Bad, especially for the back half of the season. Carmine is an exceptionally talented guy, so I’m very, very excited.

TVLINE | What’s the larger purpose of romantically involving Mike with his new FBI supervisor (played by Haven‘s Emily Rose)?
It’s twofold. One, we’re making a sexier show — and within that I don’t just mean a lot of skin, though we actually show a lot more skin this year, but I want to really play into the relationships, and relationships aren’t just people talking, they’re people in bed together. Two, we left Mike and Paige in an interesting spot last year, and this will create a conflict. For Mike, the women represent his two worlds – Jessica is colder, efficient and very much represents the ideals of D.C., where Mike believes his heart lies, and Paige represents Graceland and more of a companion presence.

TVLINE | Lastly, the cassette tape that implicates Briggs in FBI officer Juan Badillo’s murder is still floating around somewhere, right?
It is. [Former USA exec] Bill McGoldrick, who’s now running [development at] Syfy, had a very good idea last year, which was to close up as much of the mythology as we can so we can start fresh, but that’s the one thing we wanted to carry forward. Those bodies will not lie still, the bones will not stay buried, and the tape is a really nice way to remind us of that.

Want more scoop on Graceland, or for any other show? Email insideline@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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12 Comments
  1. Tracy says:

    Exciting! Can’t wait for season two!

  2. CourtTV says:

    This show got very good last year. I’m invested in the characters and I look forward to Wed night.

  3. Beth says:

    So excited it is coming back. I wouldn’t mind a darker side to Mike as long as he doesn’t totally become like Briggs was last year. I kind of want to see a jealous Paige when Mike returns to Graceland with this new girl :)

  4. Airam says:

    Really really good article. Can’t wait for season two. From the promos I’ve seen and the notes I’ve read it seems is gonna be amazing!

  5. Miss Li says:

    Great read, definitely excited for season 2! In Matt’s next Inside Line I would love to have spoilers on what’s in store for Mike. I mean we always hear how the other characters are more exposed and that they have big things coming, but what about Mike? Do we get to see more from his background, childhood, family or things like that?

  6. Bryce says:

    I hope the reformatting makes me more interested. I want to love the show, I could see so much potential last year. I just couldn’t get into it. I spent the whole season with only a loose understanding of what was even happening because I couldn’t focus. So before I watch the new premiere, I’m going to go over the episode summaries and hope I can get more into it than last season. Otherwise I’m going to hate to give this show up.

  7. Ann says:

    Can’t wait for tomorrow!!

  8. M3rc Nate says:

    All sounds perfect IMO. Its funny/sad now a-days how many shows need a entire season to know what they want to do, then scrap that first season and “start fresh” in season 2. lol. Probably a result of selling “ideas” to networks, them getting bought, written, and shot all so fast. Compare that to the network telling the show-creator/writers to take 6 months and really plan/write out the entire first season and last season, and what you want to happen in-between.

    I would say last season was fantastic and im excited about everyone, except Jake. He was a VERY weak character IMO, but that wasnt because of the actor, that was because of the writing. He was given nothing that i cared about. He didnt give a flip about anything except his ex-wife and kid, who he was weirdly stalking his ex-wifes BF…then drunkenly going to her house..etc…that would be interesting if i had a connection to the character, if i liked him and we were 2-3 seasons into the show…but i had NO connection to him, so i didnt care what little he was going through. But that can be changed, lighten/open/warm him up a bit, have him bond with Mike, give him some more story with the group and alone (that isnt depressing like his family stuff).

    Besides him, i loved every other character, especially Swan’s character with Mike. She had this dependable, caring, sexy, great vibe and personality with Mike. I love the idea of Mike coming back and having the other woman from D.C. but Paige still having feelings for him and potential love triangle/Paige & D.C. woman fighting for Mike (not in a un-professional way per-say.) Of course i also loved Charlie with Mike, it was awesome how you could see them getting together or just being great trusting friends with a bond and spark…and they went the bond and spark direction.

    Overall, VERY excited about this new season, and everything in this interview sounds like exactly what i want to hear regarding the new season. Cant wait.

  9. Rachel says:

    Great interview! This makes me even more excited for season 2!

  10. Diz says:

    Great interview! I can’t wait for season 2!

  11. Joey Padron says:

    Great interview. Can’t wait to watch season premiere.

  12. sarah says:

    Looking forward to Season 2!

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