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White Collar – Go with the best to catch the rest

White Collar pilot - Burke and Caffrey investigate

I’ll be honest: I’m feeling a little apprehensive about singing the praises of White Collar too loudly, for fear of being disappointed were this show to somehow fail (plus Kona’s got that covered). Not that I imagine it will, but I’ve been burned before.

The truth, however, is that I’m not sure it’s possible to oversell this tremendous new entry into the USA Network family. Besides how well it fits into the group, it’s just a really great show. I enjoyed it so much that I sat down to write this review of the pilot as soon as I finished writing my preview of the show, almost two weeks ago. So let’s get right down to it.

Whether or not we can believe that Neal Caffrey (Matthew Bomer) actually could have ordered a guard’s uniform online using the warden’s wife’s American Express, reformatted a swipe card to make a prison key card, bought a yellow jacket to perfectly match an airport valet (they have those?), and whatever else, you have to admit that Caffrey’s break from prison was a cool sequence. And it put me in a really good place for the episode. I enjoy when shows involve creative thinking, like Burn Notice — not so much on our end but on the part of the characters. It also told us a little bit about how Caffrey’s mind works, which is important going forward.

Peter Burke’s (Tim DeKay) intro was a little rockier, because it wasn’t 100% clear that he was in the midst of chasing a nefarious criminal. I still don’t quite understand what lead they were following at the vault, and it seemed a lot like a training exercise until the whole fiber thing became an issue. But he definitely knows Caffrey’s mind, and I think that’s going to make things really interesting.

I touched on the supporting characters a bit in my preview, but for the episode review they deserve another mention. Again, I don’t get what Burke did to deserve Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) — and that from a Kelly Kapowski fan. I like who I think her character is going to be in Burke’s relationship with Caffrey, but she felt very off to me.

Diana (Marsha Thomason) is great, and I got an early McGee (NCIS) vibe from her, which is cool. I think it’ll be interesting to see her work with Caffrey, as I think the younger generation of agents is likely to be less impressed with the skills of a con artist.

I hope they have plans to substantiate Caffrey’s need for Mozzie (Willie Garson) a bit. An old friend I get, but if he was plugged in enough while in prison to stay current on the new paper being used for Canadian bonds, Caffrey should know some of these other things, too.

I think it’s a good idea for Caffrey and Burke’s professional relationship to cross over into a personal life management sort of a thing, as it did a little bit in the pilot. The show would suffocate if 9-5 they were on, and 5-9 they had nothing to do with one another. And so I also like that Caffrey and Elizabeth will have a relationship — another reason it’s critical to dump Tiffani Thiessen pronto.

Some other stuff:

  • This was broached, but not clarified: how did Caffrey stay current in prison? We’re not talking about news here … it’s a little scary to think that convicts can use jail as a research opportunity.
  • I’m still not seeing exactly why Burke would agree to let Caffrey out. Carl Hanratty needed Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can) because check kiting was a new thing at the time, but Burke was good enough to corner Caffrey, so isn’t he up to the task with his team?
  • I get why Caffrey turned his nose up at his “hotel,” but he was just in prison! I mean, kudos for making other arrangements, but what did he expect from the federal government?
  • How the hell did Mozzie repackage that cigarette filter? Seriously.
  • Vacationing in a villa in Belize that the Bureau seized from a narcotics trafficker sounds awesome! There’s a cool island down there where the hotel is just a string of quiet huts on the beach … the downside is that the only entertainment around out of the water is miniature golf. But I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
  • Is Kate (Alexandra Daddario) going to be significant because she’s significant, or to give Caffrey more substance? Because while I’m curious about what to make of the picture and the man with the ring, I hope Caffrey’s not chasing it down just to have something to do.

Finally, Burke gave Caffrey four years of servitude as a consultant at the end of the pilot. That either kneecaps the show’s trajectory before it starts, or allows for the possibility that Caffrey’s situation may change somewhere down the road. Will he get time off for good behavior? Be released on probation? In which case, when it’s up to him to decide if he wants to continue the work, will he? Without Burke as a guardian, will he feel freer to return to his old ways?

Of course that could all happen regardless, but a kill date does add some drama to the mix. Regardless, in the meantime USA Network has just served us up another really great show. Very cool.

Photo Credit: USA Network

11 Responses to “White Collar – Go with the best to catch the rest”

October 24, 2009 at 7:03 PM

Nice start.

Neal is an exact copy of my brother in law, right down to the voice so it’s a bit strange for me.

October 25, 2009 at 3:46 PM

I hope you married his brother, or else your sister must have her hands full with the flirting! ;)

October 25, 2009 at 1:44 PM

OMG…. it’s Bryce Larkin! No wonder i recognized him from somewhere but just couldn’t say where….
Guess that means he really is DOA on Chuck, which is okay if he sticks around in WC.

October 25, 2009 at 3:53 PM

I like to think of him as Jay Burchell from Traveler, but I guess it does spell the end for Bryce; I’d never thought of it that way. Thank God, because I hated him! :)

October 28, 2009 at 5:15 AM

An utterly fantastic and incredibly strong premiere. I was expecting good things, but was simply blown away.

I loved how all of the characters on the show were smart, just some more than others. Even Jones, the big FBI guy’s “not an idiot” and spotted Mozzie right away. It’s difficult to watch all the moronic behavior on Stargate Universe and then have White Collar come on later the same night. I’d insult Dollhouse as well, but that would be unfair as I haven’t bothered to watch it since May.

Aryeh, you seemed to like it very much from your opening paragraphs, but follow that with a panoply of complaints and nitpicking rather than praise, so I’m not sure what your take was. You were right in thinking that I would like the show.

The yellow jackets were on the brochure for a long-term parking service found in Caffrey’s cell. The car’s owner who tipped Caffrey $100 said he’d be back in a month, so the car wouldn’t be missed before that.

I quite liked Peter’s relationship with Elizabeth. From the old photograph, it seems they’re pretending she hasn’t noticeably aged rather than there being a great age difference between them.

Diana was fine thus far. What regional American accent is she using?

Note that Caffrey had quite a few privileged or personal items in his cell, including some sort of technical volume, which signified he had been a model prisoner. When Burke sends him back, those have been taken away.

Even if Caffrey is smarter than Mozzie (and I’m not saying he is), the latter has the freedom to go outside the two-mile radius in digging up information, as well as talk to underworld types that won’t interface with the former while he’s an FBI consultant.

Have you seen Burke’s team? Most of them went to *blech* Harvard, and aren’t up to Burke’s or Caffrey’s level.

The only part I didn’t believe was that Caffrey walked out just in a uniform. I buy nobody recognizing him, and nobody caring that they didn’t recognize a new corrections officer, but every CO he passed was wearing a badge, shoulder mike and belt full of equipment while Caffrey was practically naked.

A bit of a blooper in the opening scene: when Bomer is clipping his fake beard, the tape strips holding it to his face are clearly visible in HD.

October 28, 2009 at 12:47 PM

I’m really glad that you liked it. ;) Next one is Men of a Certain Age.

You should know by now that my way is to nitpick. I’m always going to argue for things being tailor-made to my specifications. ;) No, I really, really liked it, but there’s always going to be something that stands out. In the case of this show, I had a lot of time to develop what I thought, since I wrote the preview first and then the review. But mostly in this type of situation, my goal is to pull on the threads of things that I think may block a show I enjoy from reaching its full potential.

For instance, the way I see her right now, I think Tiffani Thiessen could be an impediment to how great Elizabeth might be. That’s not so much a criticism of the show (well, maybe the casting) as it is a concern that she’ll keep it from being all that it can be.

A number of things that you mention below I actually did not see in my original viewing; USA distributes their screeners via a link, so you’re stuck using their video player, which I have been consistently unable to enlarge. Therefore, I missed the brochure because I couldn’t read the lettering, I didn’t notice the effects in Caffrey’s cell, and I didn’t register that he was accessory-less when he walked out of prison, and I certainly missed the beard thing. When I watched the pilot again with my wife this weekend on TV, I was like, “hey!” a number of times.

I was focused on Peter’s face in that picture, so I missed Elizabeth … he didn’t really look like the same person.

Diane’s accent sounds like the nondescript Great Plains accent that foreigner actors use when they’re not so good at dialects. Plus the stiltedness, at times, of someone not yet comfortable. I love when the English let British inflection sneak into their American accents; it sounds so weird.

I don’t know … as free as Mozzie is to navigate around, Caffrey kept current on the security fiber that the Canadians were going to use in their new currency. You think geography or mobility really put him at a disadvantage?

October 30, 2009 at 10:18 AM

Unfortunately, it is scientifically impossible for me to be in the same room as a television with Ray Romano on the screen, so that would be a challenge.

I don’t know if that was a real photo of a young DeKay, but it was definitely Thiessen, looking much the same.

Diane had a standard accent most of the time, but when she was agitated, some “-er” endings went to “-ah.” I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be Boston or New Jersey.

Well by definition, Caffrey is at a disadvantage when under the supervision of the FBI compared to his previous freedom. He may still be better than Mozzie even when hobbled by those restrictions, but there’s nothing wrong with having more options with his friend as a free agent.

November 2, 2009 at 1:50 PM

I’m sorry to hear that, because it means you didn’t enjoy Everybody Loves Raymond. However, if you feel that way about Ray because of the sitcom, this isn’t the same guy. At all. But it’s your call.

November 2, 2009 at 10:39 PM

If by “didn’t enjoy” you meant “hated with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns,” then, yes, I “didn’t enjoy” it.

Had to immediately leave the room or put on headphones lest I hear more than a few seconds of that show. Would rather watch endless hours of American Idol or According to Jim.

Romano was very good in the Ice Age movies, though.

November 6, 2009 at 2:21 AM

So then is that a character thing, or a his face thing? :)

November 7, 2009 at 11:03 AM

I hated every character on that show, as well as the screeching dialogue and “comedy,” but have no problems with their physical appearances.

Unfortunately, I now associate Romano’s voice exclusively with that show, so it would be hard to watch him every week, even with Scott Bakula around. Heaton was less prevalent, so I can stand to watch her in small doses on The Middle.

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