USA Network


    • In the tradition of bootleg real-life Duff Beer, craft It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia booze, and Game of Thrones themed brews, Breaking Bad, at the threshold of its final season, has gotten its own ale! No. It is not meth flavored. (via UPROXX)
    • Oprah brings back soap operas, returning to her roots of championing for housewives and househusbands and jobless day-time TV watchers everywhere. One Life to Live and All My Children are coming to OWN. (via The AV Club)
    • Remember that MTV show Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous? Well it’s been cancelled. Oh, no? Never mind then. (via The Hollywood Reporter)
    • USA Network is either rewarding Psych fans creatively or really just doesn’t care anymore what they air, because they’re goin’ all choose your own adventure on our asses for a season 8 episode. (via TV by the Numbers)
    • FX is adapting Last of the Mohicans, the 1992 film based on a 1826 novel about a story taking place in 1757, for television to give us all what we’ve been clamoring for—Native Americans have been under-exploited and appropriately represented in the media for far too long and Johnny “Tonto” Depp can’t fix that all by himself. (via Vulture)
    • Lastly, I would watch Tika Sumpter (pictured beautifully above) do anything. Anything in the world. If her, Oprah, and Tyler Perry need me to continue watching Haves and Have Nots to show my dedication to Miss Sumpter, I will, but I don’t have to like it. (via The Hollywood Reporter)

How foreseeable does a reveal have to be before it ceases to be revealing? The question immediately comes to mind in the final moments of this week’s adventures in the White Collar division of Manhattan’s wacky FBI force. The episode showcases an FBI convention where highlights include an Inside the Actor’s Studio-styled interview with the presumed buddy cops of the year and law enforcement’s version of a science fair (also, there should be cookies available). Shockingly, the crime-free time that the FBI had anticipated for this little shindig is interrupted early on by crooks that don’t seem to take the sanctity of the event as seriously as Peter admonishes Neal to. But the latter still holds on to a grudge from last week’s betrayal (fueled by the betrayal prior to that and setting in motion the betrayal that occurs a bit later in this very episode).

As the season has progressed, it often seems that what we may have gotten ourselves into with White Collar is a melodrama with an aggressively overplayed signature note — trust issues. If either Neal or Peter were your best friend complaining to you about their significant other over sorbet and Ryan Reynolds movies while in pajamas, you would be hard-pressed to find a reason your friend should put up with this any longer. “He doesn’t deserve you!” you would proclaim with a snap and a neck roll. You couldn’t help but roll your eyes when your friend expresses how they feel imprisoned and disrespected and patronized constantly in their relationship. You would suck your teeth loudly when your friend tells you about the time their partner lied, stole, jeopardized your friend’s career, then fled the country. It just doesn’t make sense why they would continue with this. But in that instance and perhaps in this one, you would probably be blind to the unspoken dynamic at play here: Love Maintaining the status quo.

From very early on, this week’s episode, “Vested Interest,” speaks to the beginnings of Peter and Neal’s professional relationship to remind the viewer as well as the character’s of the strength and importance of their partnership. The need for Neal’s help in the Dutchman case is apparent despite Peter’s coyness, but Neal’s need for Peter must be parsed from the very premise of the show — Neal was caught and didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter but in general is a pretty good guy. But as the interview progresses a bit and the season’s Sam arc rears its head in the episode, we’re presented with, well maybe more reminded of, alternative and implicit justifications for their partnership. (Entertainingly ho yay interpretations aside; despite how fun a thoroughly erotic fan-fic story of Peter and Neal finally coming to terms with their yearning for one another, perhaps at a coffee shop or a hat store or as Neal paints Peter like one of his French girls, would be.)

Neal has daddy issues. Plain and simple. He’s had them since forever and they’ve been one of his biggest, most transparent character features since the love of his life exploded early in the series and he promptly forgot about her soon afterwards. Peter, with slight crow’s feet and mature gruff in his voice, exists so patently as a surrogate paternal figure that it should be no surprise that Neal’s unflinching youthfulness subsists without reproach from fans and characters alike. The way he womanizes as if women are simply bits of toys and candies; the way he rashly approaches any conflict or adversity without forethought; his apparent inability to handle the nuances of complex emotions; his largely juvenile and boyish demeanor. Peter seems to be the only man up for the job of setting him straight; sitting him down for the man-to-man talks a growing boy desperately needs sometimes. They’ve even been to a ball game together. To say that this is subtle would be to give too much credit, but it certainly keeps the dynamic of Det. Burke and Mr. Caffrey’s relationship more tight and interesting than any ankle bracelet ever could.

But from another angle, something Neal slyly suggests in the town hall discussion on the values of buddy cop-ing at FBI-con 2012 actually touches upon Peter’s implicit need for Neal. Neal spitefully hints at problems at home with Mrs. Burke and, not to take the point any further than necessary, it did at some point early on seem like Peter was having a hard time communicating with his wife, finding fulfillment, or being as exemplary at home as he is in the workforce. Elizabeth is portrayed as a beautiful, loving, and largely supportive woman these days but once upon a time, as in this episode as well, she was merely an afterthought, sometimes an inconvenience. Neal’s contribution to Peter and Elizabeth’s relationship is therefore undeniable. (Mozzie must be acknowledged here too.) It’s as if the Burkes, after some struggles, could finally conceive (the metaphor has grounding in several remarks made by the couple throughout the series) and the presence of the baby Caffrey has brought them even closer.

On both sides of the partnership between Neal and Peter there’s reinforcement of the value of family. This isn’t new to this season but what is new is the exploration into Neal’s actual family history. It definitely couldn’t have been a surprise that Neal’s father was in law enforcement when it was discovered several episodes ago because we already knew his surrogate daddy, Peter, is. All must remain the same and once again, the status quo seems maintained at all costs. Thus when the switcheroo finally occurs, surrogate dad for biological dad, there might not have been enough actual switch for viewers to take notice. Why would we be surprised that Neal’s dad would lie to him and keep his true intentions a secret, whether for genuinely altruistic reasons or just as an overbearing distrustful parent-figure, especially when this has been the premise of the series all along with Peter as dad? Why would Neal’s resolute attachment to an older man as he seeks to explore his own past and find the answers to questions he’s held on to for so long not lead him directly to his father? Again, how foreseeable does a reveal have to be before it ceases to be revealing?

I think the answer to the question rests on the appreciation one can garner from the elaborately deliberate set ups and pay outs of this series. Almost immediately after an exhibition of the best bulletproof vest in the world, the main character being shot doesn’t necessarily need to surprise you but certainly provides a provocative sort of assurance that White Collar means to coddle and protect you while it entertains you in the best ways it can muster. The world of the series is wholly artificial and manicured and neat with wholly manufactured grit (certainly neater and less gritty than actual New York City). The viewer is presented with surprises and drama not in a traditional sense of unsuspected occurrences and rising and falling action. Surprise, drama, and even family for White Collar are simulated and deconstructed and reinterpreted while the sheen and sturdiness of this world are painstakingly maintained. Sam as dad, in this sense, is less of a shocking reveal, but rather another brick laid to a solid foundation or another shiny thing to play with while safely inside. If at any point there was a fear of things being shaken up, the arrival of Papa Sam has surely put that to rest. And he was a pretty good dad on Everwood, so we’ll probably be taken care of anyway.

(And yes. I’ve ignored the A plot of the criminal of the week. But the plan was so lackluster and destined to fail that I’m fairly sure half of the fictional FBI agents in the vicinity simply ignored it as well, too distracted by those cookies.)

Neal Caffrey is anklet-less and on the run from the FBI, hiding out off the coast of Western Africa, in the archipelago of Cape Verde. Caffrey’s new chin scruff and beach linens would leave him otherwise unrecognizable if not for his chapeau, a tropical strawed take on the fedoras of big city Neal. He clearly misses New York. In fact, he explicitly says so many times. He even manages to woo a young woman with that being the bulk of all that he reveals about himself. (To be fair, we were only privy to four out of the twenty questions, which may have taken a more nuanced and sincere direction after five-ish. Yeah, let’s believe that.) Same ole Neal or same old usage of beautiful women to convey easily what Neal represents — beauty, intrigue, and palpable charisma. Same ole White Collar.

Back in New York, Peter Burke misses his best friend. He doesn’t admit it but it’s clear that he and his wife can’t function without Mozzie. So the two of them have been secretly conducting their own investigation into the whereabouts of Neal and Mozzie. It doesn’t take long for Peter to track down Neal. It’s pretty much what he does. It’s what he’s always done.

But in the fourth season premiere, the monkey wrench in this time tested system of structured adventure appears to be Mekhi Motherfucking Pfifer as the new DOJ agent in town, also searching for Neal Caffrey with the sort of blood lust that seems ubiquitous in White Collar antagonists. Mekhi was last seen on last season’s Psych, also on USA Network, and his television guest appearances are always fun. Throughout this episode he utilizes both the sinister grin and the pained grimace to express every emotion a seasoned agent hunting down a fugitive in foreign lands might need. He really just wants to complete tasks, very goal oriented, and takes pleasure in the small victories. Early in the episode he asserts that Peter will help him find Neal and because it’s Mekhi, this doesn’t just come off as an empty threat. Soon enough, he smiles and his promise comes to fruition and the episode ends with an ellipsis solidifying Mekhi’s gun toting, Neal chasing, place in this early arc of season four.

It’s always uncomfortable when White Collar strays from the procedural formula. We all know it’ll happen, particularly surrounding finales and premieres, and the series has proven several times that it has to ability to return to the solid ground of weekly buddy cop-esque proceduraling. But there may be something to be said about Neal’s sentiment that we can never go back, not to New York, not to the anklet, not to Peter’s house for coffee and brainstorming sessions discussing how to catch the crook of the moment. With a show as reliable as White Collar has been for the past three or so years, it may be crucial for viewers to understand that, in the grand scheme of things, everything changes. So much so that it’s even unclear if that simple fact can stay the same. There lies the unease in White Collar‘s genuinely entertaining return. There’s comfort in the return to normalcy, but if Mekhi chases Neal for thirteen episodes (à la a reverse U.S. Marshals or Enemy of the State) in various exotic locales with various women and various stylish hats, all while Mozzie and Peter go to work for Hector at the papaya stand (there’s always money in the papaya stand), it’s unclear if that’s even a bad thing. It’s unclear if that’s even really a new thing. Same ole White Collar?

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.