Fox // 2010 // 694 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // July 18th, 2011
To catch a thief, it helps to be one.
White Collar brings its charm and charisma back to the screen with an added plotline: who blew up the plane? For those uninitiated, it's a series about a master thief/con man who agrees to work with the FBI as an alternative to jail.
USA network's police/con/buddy show enters its second season fresh off Season One's tragic finale and finds Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer, Chuck) trying to cope with his girlfriend's death (as denoted by occasional hand tremors, but don't worry -- it doesn't affect his abilities even one whit) while looking for her killer. FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, Big Eden) tries to keep Neal focused while also secretly looking into Kate's death.
Season Two's episodes:
* "Withdrawl" -- A serial bank thief is on the loose.
* "Need to Know" -- The guys look into a dirty politician.
* "Copycat Caffrey" -- An art thief uses one of Neal's old tricks to steal a painting.
* "By the Book" -- Mozzi's crush is in trouble so he turns to Neal for help.
* "Unfinished Business" -- Neal unwittingly poses as an assassin to catch a shady businessman.
* "In the Red" -- A jewel thief's arrest leads to a deeper conspiracy.
* "Prisoner's Dilemma" -- A former FBI agent is on the run and Peter is assigned to work with the U.S. Marshalls to track him down.
* "Company Man" -- A death at a major tech company gives Peter a chance to play the part of an accountant.
* "Point Blank" -- Neal acts on a clue to confront Kate's killer.
* "Burke's Seven" -- Peter is framed and put on leave, so he assembles a team of friends to help.
* "Forging Bonds" -- Neal's backstory is given in full detail.
* "What Happens in Burma" -- An American teen is arrested in Bur...er, Myanmar for stealing a ruby and the State Department wants Caffrey to help prove his innocence.
* "Countermeasures" -- An old con comes looking for the missing piece to make his final score.
* "Payback" -- A convict with a grudge tries to make a deal with Peter.
* "Power Play" -- Neal becomes Peter and Peter becomes Neal to catch a power mogul who is bilking the city.
* "Under the Radar" -- Season Two ends with (surprise!) not a cliffhanger. But certainly an interesting twist heading into Season Three.
White Collar is thisclose to being a truly great show. It has a great premise, a charismatic lead, and pretty good chemistry between the characters. It has all the pieces it needs to be so much more than it is; it just needs a boost in the writing.
The character writing -- that is, the characters' lines and the interplay between them -- ranges from good to great and that isn't the problem. It's the story writing that needs tweaking. The unique aspect of White Collar is in the con man using his abilities to catch other con men, but all too often the cases presented could have been just as easily solved by someone without Neal's background. (And, for that matter, could have been handled by the NYPD; I wondered on many occasions why the FBI was involved.) In the first episode, for instance, the premise is that a master bank robber has managed successful heists in major cities across the country; even Neal can't figure out how they were done. But instead of giving us a con chess match between Neal and the unknown bad guy, the story devolves into a fairly standard robbery attempt. Further, the script has a tendency to try to explain things that don't need explanation. "Get all the security tapes," Peter says. "I wanna know who this guy is." Well, duh.
The show shares the weaknesses of almost every police procedural that has only forty minutes to tell its story. Many of the cases have a lot of build up and then end abruptly or with convenient lucky breaks. (Look! The bad guy just happens to be standing nearby!) Supposedly master criminals who have eluded every other crime-fighting force in the country for years do something really stupid just for our team or, worse, their master scam is not really all that intelligent and should have been stopped ages ago.
Since we're on the subject of the negative aspects of White Collar, I'll add some quibbles about the directing and editing. Many scenes are clearly shot in front of a blue screen and at times the angle and perspective of the characters in the foreground in relation to the matted background are off just enough to make your eyes twitch. The editing is often spasmodic, especially the transition cuts of fast-paced, jerky views of the city along with a frenetic burst of music, all of which is presumably meant to convey a feeling of energy but ends up merely derailing the momentum. Then there's the scene in the big finale where the bad guy tries to off the heroes using a method straight out of a Bond movie. No, not even that good; straight out of a knock-off Bond flick. One of the really bad ones.
Wow. Okay, that was a lot of negative stuff for what is really a pretty good show. I gripe because I care; there is so much potential here, and the actors are great at portraying really interesting characters.
Matt Bomer is smooth as silk and 100% convincing as Neal Caffrey, the ex-con turned FBI consultant. He comes across as someone who could talk his way into or out of anything. He doesn't display a ton of range, but then his character isn't one who would let anyone see him sweat, especially since the only person he truly felt close to is dead. He and DeKay have an easy chemistry, even if their "by the book cop/freelance partner" dynamic has been seen a thousand times before. Speaking of DeKay, his weathered McGruff the Crime Dog features give him instant credibility as a veteran agent. The show is fun to watch when they're on screen together, but the character that brings the most appeal to the show is Mozzie, played by Willie Garson as sort of the antithesis to his Stanford Blatch character from Sex and the City. Mozzie has a rumpled charm which is all the more incongruent considering his deep ties to the underbelly of the city. He's hilarious, and he steals the show every time he comes onscreen.
The episodes are fairly standard "get the case, solve the case" with little moments of the bigger story alluded to from time to time until about three-quarters of the way through the season, when the show delves deep into the ongoing search for Kate's killer and the secret of the music box. Fear not if you didn't see the first season and have no idea what the music box is all about. Everything is explained in detail without undue exposition.
The 16:9 picture is what you would expect from a mainstream television show. It's never too dark or claustrophobic, even in tight spaces like elevators (I wish my work had elevators that big!). The same can be said for the sound; voices come across clearly. The soundtrack isn't intrusive (except for those scene separators) but also doesn't really add much to the show. It looks, sounds, and feels like...well, like a good television police procedural. Which is a pity, 'cause White Collar could be so much more.
Extras include deleted scenes and a "gag reel" that is funny simply for the new swearing that Bomer invents on the spot. There is also a "roasting" of fellow USA show Burn Notice along with a corresponding roast going the other way -- White Collar comes across looking like the superior show in both cases -- and an "Anatomy of an Episdode" feature that gives a very brief explanation of how a typical episode is thought up and created. Finally, there are fun if a tad fluffy commentaries with a few of the episodes.
White Collar is the class underachiever. You know, the kid who is really smart but doesn't do his homework and gets by on B's and C's when he could be making straight A's with just a little extra effort. It's still worth watching, but it's not something you'll remember ten years from now unless it steps up its game.
All charges are dismissed, but the court would like to admonish the defendant for being complacent.
Review content copyright © 2011 Josh Rode; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 694 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site