On White Collar, Neal Caffrey’s hair is immaculately coiffed. He wears tailored suits and fedoras linked sartorially to the mid-20th century – Cary Grant or the Rat Pack. He’s portrayed strikingly by Matt Bomer on the USA original series and Bomer certainly isn’t too hard on the eyes himself. When he’s on your television set, the plasma or LEDs are doing what they were meant to do. The production team painstakingly makes sure of it. Even New York City appears more vibrant and handsome with nary a homeless person or trashcan to be found, under a sky that is almost inappropriately blue.
Yet still, there is crime. White Collar floats somewhere between a crime drama and a weekly caper show à la TNT’s Leverage. In fact, the first half of the current season revolves around Caffrey’s inability to decide which sort of series, which sort of protagonist he really wants to be: the redeemed ex-con, close friend and partner of star FBI agent Peter Burke or one of the most impressive fine art thieves, forgers, and con-men in the series’ very fictional world – a world full of Nazi treasure and timely explosions in the middle of Manhattan. The very fact that these are the options is a testimony to White Collar’s commitment to effect, dramatic and aesthetic.
Suspenseful kidnappings, perilous circumstances, and murders are fodder for White Collar’s drama formula, worked while carefully preserving cosmetics, sharpness, and fun. There’s not much else to it. Often the show’s plot holes are like potholes in the real New York City, but if you like it here and decide to stay, you tend to avoid them. There’s fun to be had and cynicism has no home on USA Network original programming, where all you need is an upbeat color palette and a pun-title for your premise to launch a similarly quirky series.
White Collar stands out on USA for its execution (like Psych stands out for its high success rate of obscure jokes and allusions.) As Kenny at A.V. Club points out, White Collar’s mid-season premiere “is, to its credit, a case-study in storytelling economy.” The show isn’t revolutionary in content or plot points. Our guys, the good guys, will always come out on top. And the bad guys will get their comeuppance in due time, when depending on their quality of inciting drama. Still viewers ofttimes can’t predict what’s coming their way next. Good. Throughout three seasons the writers have proven their ability to effectively tie up loose ends while skillfully laying the ground work for future storytelling, perpetual ups and downs of tension and danger, manufactured beneath a swank cloak of obscurity.
All in the sake of fun. In the world of White Collar, a resistance to fun is a resistance to being surprised when Caffrey gets away with a heist or attracted to Tiffani Amber Thiessen (again). It’s possible and some people might be somehow predisposed to doing so, but it’s a regrettable state of being after buying many a movie ticket or paying a cable bill. In fact if you don’t like White Collar, you probably won’t like any USA Network series, a bold but merited proclamation, and I suggest you reconsider paying for cable. Honestly. It’s a new day filled with new avenues of potential entertainment and storytelling and a series like this tries hard, not always successfully, to hold on to a more fun yesterday, like wearing a fedora with no irony.