[10/23/09 - 12:31 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "White Collar" (USA)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "WHITE COLLAR is about the most unlikely of partnerships between a con artist and an FBI agent. The story unfolds after charming criminal mastermind Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is caught by his nemesis, G-Man extraordinaire Peter Burke (Tim DeKay). After escaping from a maximum-security prison to find his long-lost love, Neal is nabbed by Peter once again. Rather than returning to jail for this daring getaway, Neal suggests an alternate plan - providing his expertise to assist the Feds in putting away infamous and elusive criminals in return for his freedom. Tiffani Thiessen plays Peter's wife, Elizabeth, an intelligent, high-status event planner with a certain intuition of her own. Willie Garson plays Mozzie, a friend of Caffrey's with a strong distrust of the Feds and an unyielding belief in conspiracy theories. Diahann Carroll ("Grey's Anatomy," "Dynasty") guest stars in the pilot and will star as a dynamic recurring character."

What did they leave out? Tonight's series premiere runs 12 minutes past the hour.

The plot in a nutshell: When legendary con artist Neal Caffrey (the always great to see Matt Bomer) inexplicably escapes from a maximum security prison with just three months to go on his sentence, FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, equally awesome) - the only man to ever catch him - is tasked with bringing him back. Peter, the head of the agency's White Collar Crime Unit, however already has his hands full with another case: a mysterious counterfeiter known only as The Dutchman (Mark Sheppard). Thankfully Neal proves to be surprisingly easy to retrieve as he simply lets himself get caught, heartbroken by the news that the reason he broke out - Kate Moreau, his one true love - has decided to move on without him. Rather than face another four years in jail, Neal offers his unique skillset to help track down The Dutchman. Peter initially hesitates, Neal being a professional con man and all, but after hitting wall after wall he's left with no other choice. The deal: in addition to his services, Neal will have to wear a high-tech tracking device and can't go anywhere outside a two mile radius without supervision or risk going back to jail... for life. Plus: as much as he wants to, no looking for Kate.

And with that Peter drops him off at his new home - a halfway house in Manhattan for $700 a month - only to return the next day to find Neal's somehow managed to charm his way into using the spare bedroom of a wealthy widow (Diahann Carroll), not to mention access to her late husband's designer wardrobe and her supermodel granddaughter down the hall. "Even the friggin' coffee is perfect," Peter grumbles, trying to take it all in. Neal's improbable success applies to the case as well as he quickly figures out The Dutchman's latest score: replicating rare Spanish Victory Bonds from the Second World War. More importantly, it's here where the pair's central dynamic begins to set in - Peter's annoyed with/jealous of Neal's potent mix of handsomeness and intellect while Neal's annoyed with/jealous of the normal life Peter gets to lead, which includes his neglected wife Elizabeth (a surprisingly fun Tiffani Thiessen). Aiding their respective causes are Peter's probie Diana (Marsha Thomason), who's literally immune to Neal's charms, and Neal's friend Mozzie (Willie Garson), who's less than thrilled to be dragged into working for the government. Ultimately, as you undoubtedly expect, our heroes discover they could actually make a great team.

What works: First and foremost, "White Collar" is simply a lot of fun to watch. Bomer's Neal has a rascally demeanor that's downright infectious while DeKay's Peter provides a welcome levity to the proceedings. When Neal emerges wearing a suit and hat straight out of the Rat Pack era, Peter - after the initial wow moment (complete with Sinatra needle drop) - deadpans, "You look like a cartoon." That coupled with an "Ocean's Eleven" meets "Out of Sight" vibe (the soundtracks of which are both on the temp track) and you have the recipe for yet another notch in USA's already successful belt. The real draw for me however turns out to be how cleverly the show manages to sidestep the whole "mismatched partners fight crime" angle. Neal and Peter don't dislike each other, in fact they have the utmost respect for each other.

And it's that facet that makes the show decidedly unique - Peter's conflict isn't how much he hates Neal, it's how much he likes him. He's a guy used to playing by the rules and is willing to put in the necessary time to reach a certain socioeconomic status. And yet here comes Neal who has things he'll never experience fall into his lap without a thought. Hell, he's managed to talk his way out of jail! In short: it's just not fair. Neal conversely would trade it all to have someone like Elizabeth back home. And yet Peter has Elizabeth back home and what does he do? He buries himself in his job and forgets anniversaries, letting their love atrophy in the process. Same thing: it's just not fair. If anything, "White Collar" proves to be the ultimate "the grass is always greener on the other side" parable. Neal and Peter aren't mismatched partners, they're two sides of the same coin. When a show can do that - bring the fun and the neat character subtext - I'll always be the first in line.

What doesn't: No complaints - you really should check this one out.

The bottom line: Another welcome addition to the USA family.

  [october 2009]  


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