Sunday , February 25 2024
USA's latest series - this one about a former criminal helping an FBI agent - premieres October 23rd.

TV Review: White Collar

USA Network's ever-expanding lineup of original productions is getting ready to welcome a new set of characters.  Starting on October 23 at 10pm, the series will be airing White Collar, the story of a white collar criminal, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) helping out the FBI agent who caught him, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay).

Caffrey is something of a jack-of-all-criminal-trades in the series, at least the white collar ones.  He can forge documents, can identify threads from Canada's secret new money on site, and can break out of maximum security prisons with ease.  He's a suave smooth talker and one would think his genius unequaled had he not been caught by Burke.

The FBI agent is the dedicated, hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone, type of genius.  He may know everything about the criminals he follows and their methods, but the poor guy is unable to work out exactly what his wife (Tiffani Thiessen) might like for their anniversary. 

In the pilot, Burke finds himself agreeing with Caffrey's offer of help with the capture of Burke's current prey.  Caffrey is allowed out of jail with a tracking device and put in Burke's charge as the two hunt down the criminal.  The temporary situation becomes less temporary by the end of the premiere and the series promises to feature the two going after new and different criminals on a weekly basis (except for when the story will focus on Caffrey's ex-girlfriend).

As with all of USA Network's recent series, the show is a blend of comedy and drama.  In the case of White Collar's pilot, the two mix wonderfully, creating the broad outlines of what could be some great characters.  Bomer and DeKay are both adept at delivering the funny lines and still manage to create well-rounded characters who very clearly display areas of strength and weakness.

For a network which prides itself on creating interesting characters for people to watch, USA Network seems to have again managed to land a show which has some great characters at its center.  While we don't get much of Thiessen's Elizabeth in the premiere, it will be interesting to see if the show can creatively expand on her character and manage to keep her germane to the stories or if her plotlines will remain wholly separate.  Also starring in the series is Willie Garson as a criminal friend of Caffrey who helps the criminal-turned-cop out from time-to-time. 

While the pilot is extremely amusing and certainly promises great fun down the line, there is some concern over the series' unnecessary and ill-conceived attempts at being clever.  In the pilot, much is made of Caffrey's tracking device and how he is only allowed to venture within a two-mile radius from the incredibly decrepit hotel Burke puts him in without Burke's presence.  Two miles may not sound like a lot, but the series does take place in New York City and Caffrey's hotel is on the island of Manhattan.  A two-mile radius in Manhattan is an exceedingly large territory, in fact, if the hotel is not located almost all the way to one side of the island at its widest point, a two-mile radius would allow Caffrey to swim both in the Hudson and the East River – assuredly something Burke and the FBI don't intend.

The two-mile radius is set up in order to make a joke later as Caffrey ends up finding a much nicer set of rooms one-point-six miles away.  The intent is to frustrate Burke endlessly (which it does) and to show to the audience that the series will be full of this humorous little asides.  The aside, however, only serves to pull anyone who has lived in or around Manhattan completely out of the series.  What was meant as a cute little joke – and it really only is a minor point in the pilot – instead leaves one to wonder what down the line will also not be fully researched or thought out; what other, perhaps larger, elements of a good, believable, story will be sacrificed on the alter of cleverness. 

With luck and a little effort, White Collar will be able to avoid such pitfalls, and this reviewer for one certainly hopes that it does.  What we are given in the pilot is the basic outline of a show which ranks right up there with the best of what USA Network has ever offered and is certainly their strongest new series since Burn Notice.

White Collar premieres October 23 at 10pm.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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