And so continues USA Networks seemingly unstoppable barrage of shows that not only feel fresh and new but also have a certain style and swagger about them that you can’t help but want to continue watching them. While I feel White Collar is probably the networks weakest attempt to date, it still manages to warrant a viewing simply for the fun factor. The stories and characters are fairly simple and the season started out rather rough, but it eventually proceeds into something a bit more worth watching and something to recommend to those who already enjoy the networks other offerings.
Playing cat and mouse for years, an unlikely partnership is formed between a con artist and an FBI agent in USA’s hit original series, “White Collar.” Matt Bomer plays Neal Caffrey, a charming criminal mastermind, who is finally caught by his nemesis, FBI Agent Peter Burke played by Tim DeKay. When Neal escapes from a maximum-security prison to find his long-lost love, Peter nabs him once again. Rather than returning to jail, Neal suggests an alternate plan: he’ll provide his criminal expertise to assist the Federal Agents in catching other elusive criminals. Initially wary, Peter quickly finds that Neal provides insight and intuition that can’t be found on the right side of the law. “White Collar” also stars Tiffani Thiessen (“Saved By The Bell”) and Willie Garson (Sex and the City) and Natalie Morales.
I immediately wanted to like this show just for the premise. A suave con artist that almost always manages to evade the FBI ends up working for them to fight against other con artists. It’s a concept that’s been used before on the network, notably with Burn Notice in which a former spy uses his talents to aid the city (although in a less law enabled fashion). So while it’s not terribly original, it’s still a great formula; unfortunately it’s one that White Collar fails to exploit to the fullest extent. It seems as if the show is stuck in first or second gear, never fully exploiting the potential of its characters and the situations they’re put in. I watch each episode hoping that something incredibly espionage-y will happen but it always ends up going back to the FBI tying our lead down.
In all honesty I think this show would have worked better if the main character, Neal Caffrey, was less tied down by the FBI. It was a great seedling for an idea, but he’s too bound by the law now so he’s never really able to flex his muscles. Granted as a con artist he was used to skirting under the law and he still does that in the show, but it just never seems like he does anything all that…cool. It’s too influenced and bottled up by his handler, FBI Agent Peter Burke. In fact I’m confident that Burke is the entire reason why I find the show so unbearable at times. There was a great mid-season twist where Burke’s integrity was questioned; I jumped at this idea because it showed that the writers had some stones to do a mid-season twist with a main character. Alas it was ret-conned in short order once it returned from a mid-season break and I was once again stuck with Burke. Nothing against the actor, but I just find him a very stubborn and annoying guy; always distrustful of Caffrey and while that may have to do with Caffrey being a con artist, he really has never tried to pull one over on Burke in the series so it all just seems unfounded.
Then there’s the supporting cast…of which there really isn’t much of one. There’s Mozzie (played by Willie Garson) as Neal’s pal and confidante and Burke’s wife, played by Thiessen, but aside from some FBI employees popping up there’s really no one else aside from Neal to interact with (aside from the other cons he has to…well, con). Like I said it seems as if the show could be a lot more than it is…it just comes off as a very slow and unsure execution of itself. There’s definitely a lot of potential there and I can only hope the second season (now airing!) will kick things up a level or two because if it continues on its crash course of the mundane then it will likely lose viewers.
There are some winning elements of the series, granted. Bomer’s lead character is definitely charismatic and his penchant for dressing sharply is a hook of the series, we just sadly don’t see as much of him actually playing the lead as I’d like (which again can be contributed to DeKay’s part in the series, which forces the FBI angle to overshadow more of the con artist bits). The stories themselves aren’t always that bad either, as they’re definitely interesting cases that the FBI takes on it’s just that they seem to be unsure of how to utilize Caffrey at times—which may be a real life parallel of what the writers deal with on the show, I don’t know.
In any case White Collar is a show definitely worth a Rental at least. The first season has enough moments that it warrants a viewing, but there aren’t enough that I feel would make the viewer desire a second viewing.
Fox releases White Collar – The Complete First Season on Blu-ray in a standard-width Elite Blu-ray three-disc case. I will say right now the MSRP is high for this set—it boasts a nearly $50 price tag on Amazon currently, which is a bit shocking for a three-disc (considering 24’s last season on Blu-ray didn’t even get as high as $50). It might just be to offset the production costs of the show or something—it’s definitely an expensive looking show to produce at times, as there are few moments where I saw green screen or CGI used extensively.
Speaking of the shows looks we get an AVC encoded (@24mbps) 1.78:1 presentation for the season here and it looks pretty fantastic. As I said it’s a lot of real-world footage and with it taking place in New York it’s definitely got quite a few sights to see. Grain can be an issue with darker sequences, but overall the shows blue-hued color palette definitely looks clean and clear on Blu-ray. Sadly the audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, is pretty laid back—there just isn’t a lot of surround activity for this show to kick back at the viewer aside from the usual office or street noise chatter. Sound effects and clean and distinct whenever they’re used, but guns are rarely discharged and things don’t explode all that often so it’s a pretty laid back mix. Still clean and clear where it counts (the dialogue) though, so it’s not as if it’s a poorly manufactured mix—just a quiet one.
Extras are surprisingly hearty and include:
• “Pilot” Commentary by Jeff Eastin, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen and Matt Bomer
• “Free Fall” Commentary by Jeff Eastin, Matt Bomer and Willie Garson
• “Hard Sell” Commentary by Jeff Eastin, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay
• “Vital Signs” Commentary by Jeff Eastin, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen and Willie Garson
• “Out of the Box” Commentary by Jeff Eastin, Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer
• Gag Reel (12 minutes, SD)
• Deleted Scenes (10 minutes, SD)
• Exclusive Featurettes:
o “Pro and Con” (7 minutes, 1080p)
o “A Cool Cat in the Hat” (6 minutes, 1080p)
o “Nothing But the Truth” (2 minutes, 1080p)
Obviously most of the meat is going to stem from the five audio commentaries included here. They’re a fantastic addition as it has full spectrum coverage of the actors and crew involved with the episodes so it’s not just one angle you’re getting. On top of that the fact they covered five episodes of the season is just a real welcome addition—most of these TV box sets nowadays get away with one or two, but five out of fourteen episodes is pretty good.
The remaining extras are fairly forgettable, although the outtake reel was good fun. Deleted scenes were forgettable and the featurettes were cool, but the best of them was the “Nothing But the Truth” piece…or it would have been if it wasn’t so damn short. Still it’s a nice collection of extras and makes this a Recommended set to check out.
White Collar – The Complete First Season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.