Graceland USA, The Bridge FX: TV shows both struggle in Season 2

What happens when a new TV series has an inspired premise that runs its course in the first season, and then it gets renewed for Season 2? That’s the scenario facing The Bridge on FX and Graceland on USA, a pair of non-premium cable TV shows who aimed high last year and mostly delivered. Now both shows are looking to reinvent themselves in their second seasons, or at least find a new center, and the early episodes reveal that both shows are struggling toward that end. Can they turn it around?

Graceland is centered on a group of mismatched young-ish federal agents who share a beach house as their base for various undercover operations. Paul Briggs runs the house, and while he’s an idealistic and good natured agent, he’s hiding too many skeletons to fit in a closet. Mike Warren is the upstart rookie agent assigned to the house, not only to help out with their cases, but to spy on the rest of them, and Briggs in particular. The first season was fun: they went surfing, they tried to avoid falling into the pitfalls of their living arrangements, and Briggs and Warren had an “I want to like you but I don’t quite trust you but let’s try to have fun working together anyway” vibe.

But Graceland Season 2 has Warren coming back to the house after a prolonged stint in Washington DC, and now he’s a womanizing egomaniac. The male supporting characters are now either lunatic alcoholics or staging crazy death-wish undercover stints, while the female supporting characters have both turned into moping wimps who don’t remotely resemble their badass selves from Season 1. Briggs is barely in the show this season, to the point that one is left to wonder if actor Daniel Sunjata has been away making a movie. More to the point, Briggs and Warren have almost no screen time together. And everyone is really angry at each other most of the time, meaning that this once fun show is mostly just outtakes from Real World: FBI. The show has gotten darker, but not in a gritty way, so much as everyone’s just gotten pissy.

The Bridge is a much darker show to begin with. It’s the slow moving, slow simmering tale of a police detective from El Paso and another detective from Juarez, Mexico coming together to solve an international crime. The American is only is she by the book, she has Aspergers and doesn’t even understand the concept of straying from the book. The Mexican is the last honest cop in Mexico, but makes it up as he goes along because there is no book. They both have their demons, which surface regularly, and the list of supporting characters is so long and sprawling that many of the subplots aren’t even related to the main storyline. Season 1 shouldn’t have worked, but it did, if only because it ambitiously ventured into places that most TV shows only wish they had the guts to.

Unfortunately the fallout from Season 1 of The Bridge has left the show with no clear place to go in Season 2. Because of (SPOILER ALERT) the ultimate downer ending in which the Mexican detective’s son died at the hands of the killer they’d been chasing, he’s no longer the hopeful character he once was. What had been a dark and gritty detective drama is now a dark and gritty tale of revenge. More problematic is the fact that a whole slew of additional supporting characters were introduced in the Season 2 premiere, stretching things so thin that the two main detectives no longer have much screen time together – and their bizarre interpersonal relationship had been the highlight of the show. Oddly enough, it’s the same conceit that’s dogged Season 2 of Graceland.

Can Graceland on USA or The Bridge on FX find their way back to what they do best before Season 2 is over, or are both permanently on the wrong road? Or are these TV shows doing just fine, and I’m being too much of a downer about their changes in direction?