5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching White Collar!
by REBECCA, January 21, 2013
For a few years, Netflix has been recommending White Collar to me and for a few years I’ve summarily dismissed the recommendation. My logic: “You know what’s boring? White collar crime.” But, through a series of (frankly uninteresting to anyone but me) circumstances, I found myself deciding I’d give the pilot a whirl, just to prove to Netflix that they were wrong. That, while, sure, I love me some Law and Order SVU and some Bones and some Lie To Me does not mean that I’m a sucker for any procedural show with a unique premise and a set of codependent partners.
Boy howdy, was I wrong. Turns out, I am a sucker for a smart and unique show with codependent partners, which White Collar definitely is. So, to save you from making the same mistake that I did and, thus, depriving yourself of a true joy, I present to you: 5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching White Collar!
1. Expertise & Monomania! Holy hell, is there anything that delights me more than people who know a shitload of super-specific information about a lot of things and a single-minded drive to pursue those things? No! (Or, at least, nothing that’s any of your business.) So, the premise of White Collar is that Neal Caffrey (played by the delightful Matt Bomer)—expert art forger, counterfeiter, thief, confidence man, and all around freaking charmer—cuts a deal with the FBI to be released from prison (he’s already escaped once, NBD) as an expert consultant in the white collar department. He’s partnered with agent Peter Burke, who put him in prison in the first place. The point? Neal is an expert in all things associated with forging, art, counterfeiting, breaking in places, stealing things, puzzles, and math. He can forge the Mona Lisa, signatures, and any piece of identification you can imagine.
But, just as interestingly, Neal is an expert at reading people. He is immensely charming and can tell what people want and what their weaknesses are. It doesn’t hurt that he is distractingly handsome and dresses really well. (Seriously, though, he’s the kind of handsome—not so model beautiful that it’s ridiculous and smiley enough to be super engaging—that I can’t imagine having to deal with it on a daily basis. Like, I wonder if Matt Bomer’s boyfriend is ever trying to tell him that, like, he put too much chili powder in the stew and instead finds that he’s just been staring at Matt Bomer’s face, not having noticed that forty-five seconds have gone by?) As the show continues, Neal’s many and varied expertises keep revealing themselves. Seriously, it’s goddamned beautiful to watch (just make sure you’re not feeling like a failure when you start watching).
2. A Married Couple Without Kids! Peter Burke and his wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen, aka Kelly Kapowski from Saved By the Bell in a charming turn) have been married for ten years and have no kids. Why does that matter? Because it’s one of the few portrayals on tv (at least that I’ve seen) of a couple who have a great relationship where they actually care about the details of each other’s lives as opposed to being bored with each other, cheating on each other, or only caring about their kids’ lives. They’re pretty cute together, and not in a gross, schmoopy way. Elizabeth runs her own party planning business but she’s also super into hearing about FBI stuff; she often gives Peter insights and likes to talk through cases, and she’s smart, so it’s charming. Anyway, I didn’t notice for the whole first season how rare (and refreshing) it is to see a couple that is crazy about each other (and their super cute dog!).
3. Odd Couple In Love! Speaking of couples in love, Peter and Neal totally adore each other and the show delights in how much they respect, admire, and infuriate each other. Peter (played by Tim DeKay, who I loved in Carnivàle) was the agent who pursued Neal for years and eventually put him in jail, and it’s clear that he respected the hell out of Neal as a brilliant criminal. When Neal was in prison, he sent Peter birthday cards and other such cheeky things. From the moment they start working together, it’s obvious that Peter is absolutely delighted by Neal, both professionally and kind of like a little brother. Neal clearly feels genuine affection and respect for Peter. Peter admires Neal’s charm, intelligence, and ability to always land on his feel; Neal admires Peter’s honesty, principles, and dependability. They are the perfect odd couple and goddammit it is delightful to watch their relationship develop. This is the definition of a buddy-buddy homosocial partnership (think Supernatural, but without that whole . . . brothers thing).
4. Nerd Power! White Collar is definitely a show that celebrates the nerdy, from science to obscure historical factoids. Sure, many of the nerds in question are overly attractive, but not my favorite nerd. Enter, Mozzie (Willie Garson)! He’s Neal’s oldest friend and is brilliant, well-read, and nerdy! He has a penchant for wine, cravats, hanging out at Neal’s house, and clever turns of phrase. In combination with Neal, he’s devastating in a number of areas. Like, I think between the two of them they could probably topple governments or steal the entire contents of the Louvre.
When I first started watching White Collar, I thought it was a superficially fun show that kept me intrigued because of all the above. However, after a few episodes, I started thinking that it was a really smart show, in terms of writing. In each episode, there is a crime/scheme that Neal and Peter need to solve (that’s the procedural part). As such, each one is a little mini-mystery, like most procedurals, but unlike many shows of the whodunnit variety, White Collar‘s crimes are often much more complicated and smarter. These are elaborate schemes by criminals of Neal’s ilk, so it’s often as delightful to see the criminals’ intelligence as it is Neal’s. But it isn’t just the plots that are smart, it’s also the writing. One of my pet peeves in television writing is when characters don’t have properly differentiated voices (vocabularies, knowledge sets, syntaxes), but White Collar definitely delivers. Mozzie, in particular, has an awesome voice and backstory. You know a show’s writing is good when you don’t even notice it for a few episodes.
5. A Conflict Of Interests! One surefire way to create persistent and natural dramatic tension is to have characters who share one goal or interest, but have essentially conflicting interests in another area. The reason Neal wanted to be let out of prison (and escaped in the first place, as we learn in the first five minutes of the pilot, so I’m not spoiling anything) is because his ex-girlfriend left town and he wants to find her. So, alongside the cases that he works with Peter, Neal is also trying to solve the mystery of where she went. Then, in later seasons, he has even bigger personal . . . pursuits. This makes for a really awesome dynamic: Peter trusts Neal intrinsically as it concerns his expertise, and adores him as a person, but knows that very expertise could allow Neal to try and escape or perpetrate schemes under his nose. Neal, on the other hand, has obligations and desires that force him, again and again, to choose between them and his loyalty to Peter. It’s all very dramatic!
White Collar seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix now.