Fox // 2009 // 617 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // July 26th, 2010
To solve the toughest crimes, hire the smartest criminal.
White Collar is one of USA Network's newest series. It's also one of its best. Part Odd Couple and part Ocean's Eleven, the series trades some of the network's patented goofiness for style. With great cast chemistry and rock-solid writing, White Collar: The Complete First Season is a higher class of procedural.
Convicted bond forger and suspected art thief Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer, Chuck) breaks out of jail, only to be captured by FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, Carnivale) -- again. This time, though, Caffrey offers Burke a deal. In return for keeping him out of prison, he will act as a consultant to Burke's White Collar Crime Unit, helping them solve the kind of crimes Caffrey used to commit. But Neal has another motive to stay out of prison. His girlfriend, Kate (Alexandra Daddario, All My Children), has gone missing and Caffrey wants to find her and the man who took her away. To do so, he'll need his con-man pal, Mozzie (Willie Garson, Sex and the City). He'll also need the help of his unlikely new FBI partner -- especially when a shadowy federal agent (Noah Emmerich, Miracle) starts sniffing around.
White Collar Season One has all 14 episodes, on three dual-layer Blu-rays:
* "Book of Hours"
* "Flip of the Coin"
* "The Portrait"
* "All In"
* "Free Fall"
* "Hard Sell"
* "Bad Judgment"
* "Vital Signs"
* "Home Invasion"
* "Front Man"
* "Out of the Box"
As much as I enjoy the rest of USA Network's original programming, the shows are pretty lightweight, favoring comedy over drama. White Collar isn't a gritty FX series, but it's far more serious than, say, the breezy Royal Pains or the lovably silly Psych. Although it fits the network's "Characters Welcome" tagline, it feels more like a network show than something you'd see on basic cable. And I mean that in a good way.
Basing the show out of the FBI's White Collar unit gives the writers, including creator Jeff Eastin, more flexibility than if it had been set in homicide. Neal and Peter take on a few murder investigations, but mostly they spend their time tracking down art thieves, forgers, smugglers, and unscrupulous collectors. Although that might sound boring, it's not. There are shoot-outs, car chases, and daring escapes, but the real fun of White Collar is watching the duo work both sides of the law to solve cases. The tension of that balancing act gives Neal and Peter's interactions teeth. Like the anklet that keeps Caffrey within his proscribed two-mile radius, they are constantly pushing at the boundaries of a relationship that's gone from adversarial to collegial. Although they never quite trust each other, Neal and Peter do forge a unique kind of friendship.
It's easy to think of Matt Bomer as the lead. He's charming, talented, and handsome beyond belief. Part of that attraction is his that Neal is the bad boy. He plays fast and loose with the rules and is a hit with the ladies. Tim DeKay's Peter, on the other hand, has to work that much harder to keep up. As a straight-edge agent of the law, he worries about things like warrants and probable cause. Plus, he has to worry about Neal. DeKay's greatest strength is his ability to be both strict and likable at the same time. Little wonder why his wife, Elizabeth, played by Saved By the Bell-alum Tiffani Thiessen, chose him over someone like Neal.
Although Bomer's Caffrey has one toe perpetually over the line, he never comes across as overly criminal. His con artistry relies on skills like the ability to perfectly reproduce classic paintings and antique wine bottles, and the wits to talk his way into the highest of society. Of course, the real reason we root for Neal is that the motivation for everything he does is that he wants to find Kate, who has gone missing and appears to be under the thumb of a mysterious stranger. Kate's disappearance is the heart of the season-long story arc, which really heats up once Department of Justice agent Garrett Fowler enters the story halfway through the season. Played by Noah Emmerich, Fowler is a great villain whose ultimate goals are kept a mystery up until the end. Neal's main ally in the search for Kate is his pal Mozzie -- hands-down my favorite character in the series. Willie Garson takes a character who might otherwise be comic relief and gives him an edge, moving effortlessly between bizarre conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination and genuine concern for his friend.
On Blu-ray, White Collar: Season One looks better than a high-definition TV broadcast, but not as good as the best Blu-ray has to offer. The 1.78:1 1080p video is sharp, and color is natural, but the picture can look washed out at times, especially in scenes that have bright lighting. In a few scenes, the image goes way too blue, even for a show that uses color the way White Collar does. Still, when it comes to close-ups, the detail is impressive -- perfect for showing off Neal's impeccable taste in fashion, art, and allegedly forged wartime currency. The end result is more than enough to recommend White Collar on Blu-ray. Just don't expect it to look worlds better than it did when it first aired on USA HD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround mix is solid for a TV show. The dialogue is clear and the score hits hard, but the rear speakers don't do much more than boost the soundtrack.
Like most USA home video releases, the White Collar bonus features are solid but not spectacular. There are audio commentaries for five episodes: the "Pilot," the mid-season finale "Free Fall," the second half opener "Hard Sell," fan-favorite "Vital Signs," and the season finale "Out of the Box." Recorded by creator Jeff Eastin and combinations of Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Willie Garson, and Tiffani Thiessen, the commentaries are light, conversational, and not terribly interesting. There's some discussion of character motivations and production details, but mostly it's just a bunch of people goofing around. Fans of the show may enjoy them, but they're not essential listening.
Disc three has the bulk of the extras, including three hi-def featurettes: "Pro and Con" looks at the two lead actors; "A Cool Cat in the Hat" pays tribute to fashion on the show, from Neal's classic Rat Pack look to what it takes to give Mozzie his "homeless chic"; and "Nothing But the Truth" profiles Tom Barden, the real-life former FBI agent who helps Eastin and the writers keep the show grounded in reality. A 12-minute gag reel is mildly amusing, though the sound is so rough it's hard to hear what's going on. Rounding things off is a collection of six interesting deleted scenes, running about ten minutes in total. The gag reel and deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic standard definition.
Although I really enjoy the lighter tone of USA's original programming, viewers looking for gritty realism, or an explanation for how two former adversaries become friends so quickly, should probably look elsewhere.
As the only USA Network original series to get a first season Blu-ray release, White Collar: The Complete First Season proves that just because a show was made for basic cable doesn't mean it can't look as good as network television's best. Balancing heist movie and buddy cop sensibilities, White Collar is the perfect antidote to a glut of forensic-based TV procedurals. It takes place a world where cases are solved not by high-tech gadgets, but by sharp wits and sharper suits. Neal Caffrey and Peter Burke may not always see eye-to-eye, but they make a great team.
I think we can remove the tracking anklet now. Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 617 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Website