It's been a while since the gentleman thief has been prominent in pop culture: you know, the sort of role that was David Niven's suave specialty (he was, after all, both Raffles and The Pink Panther's "Phantom"). Given the economic meltdown, the timing may seem odd to make a white collar criminal accustomed to the finer things the hero of a TV series, but White Collar is about the attempted rehabilitation of a con man, whose skills are put to use by his FBI captors.
It's a fine premise to meet with USA's "Characters Welcome" formula (previously perfected with Monk, Burn Notice and the like), done here as a buddy comedy-drama. Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a thief, antiquities expert and forger locked up by FBI Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay of Carnivàle). When Caffrey escapes from maximum-security federal prison shortly before his sentence is to run out, Burke runs him down again, only to discover Caffrey busted out out of desperation in his relationship to a woman named Kate (infrequent guest star Alexandra Daddario). Burke warily agrees to a work-release arrangement trading Caffrey's criminal expertise to the FBI's Manhattan White Collar Crime Unit in exchange for his relative, ankle-braceleted freedom. Caffrey quickly parlays his living arrangements from a seedy hotel up to the guest house of a penthouse apartment, the digs of well-off widow June (Diahann Carroll). The series' use of New York City locations adds a great deal of visual appeal and an extra dash of romance.
The series' mythology revolves around the mystery of Kate—who appears to be living somewhere under duress (and perhaps also under the thumb of an FBI agent) while sending Neal secret messages that keep him on her trail. Neal gets off-the-books help from former associate Mozzie (Willie Garson of Sex and the City), while Burke bounces his concerns off his event-planner wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen of Beverly Hills, 90210). The recurring characters include veteran actor James Rebhorn (The Game) as the Special Agent in Charge of the White Collar Crime Unit and Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show) as an untrustworthy agent who ironically comes from the Office of Professional Responsibility. Season one's prominent guest stars include Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood), Callie Thorne (Rescue Me), Jonathan Tucker (The Deep End), Kyle Secor (Homicide), John Ventimiglia (The Sopranos), and Kirk Acevedo (Fringe).
Creator Jeff Eastin keeps it light, focusing on the odd couple of straight-laced Burke and swingin' Caffrey (a born winner who happens into a complete Rat Pack-era Sy Devore wardrobe). Familiar faces finally enjoying leading-man status on screen, Bomer and DeKay look to be having a great deal of fun, and they share an easy rapport. Bomer has no trouble striking the Robin Hood-esque balance of smugness and earnestness required for his role, and DeKay easily locates the comedy in comically fulfilling and at times upending our estimation that Burke is a hopeless stuffed shirt. Together, the two share a pleasing bickering banter that's (just barely) enough to keep the typically dull plots humming along.
Of course, there are dramatic underpinnings, provided on a weekly basis by needy victims who motivate our heroes to nab the bad guy, and on an ongoing basis by the trust issues between Caffrey and Burke. It's a two-steps-forward-one-step-back thing between the two, who develop a bromantic bond over the course of the season but also regularly find themselves in situations that stir up doubts: that Caffrey will commit a crime or affect an escape, or that Burke is a double-crosser with information about Kate that he's not sharing. Though the writers are clever enough to give some credence to these doubts, the reliance on trust as a theme is limiting—one presumes that the series will grow beyond it in Season Two now that the partnership has been regularly tested. In short, there's just enough charm and novelty to White Collar to hold interest, but it has some work to do to become "appointment TV."
White Collar: The Complete First Season comes to Blu-ray in a snazzy three-disc set that features terrific hi-def transfers. Depth, detail, and texture are all outstanding, making the show one of the best-looking on Blu-ray. Color and contrast are rendered accurately for a handsome picture, black level is strong, and the picture is free of distracting digital artifacts. Sound arrives in definitive lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes that, while low-key and minimal in surround activity, handily fulfill the show's humble aural requirements.
Across the three discs, you'll find commentary on "Pilot" with creator/executive producer Jeff Eastin, Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen, and Willie Garson; commentary on "Free Fall" with Eastin, Bomer, DeKay, and Garson; commentary on "Hard Sell" with Eastin, Bomer, and DeKay; commentary on "Vital Signs" with Eastin, DeKay, and Thiessen; and commentary on "Out of the Box" with Eastin, McKay and Bomer. The creator and actors give a convincing impression that they all get along like gangbusters; these are chatty and fun tracks if not terribly focused or informative.
An entertaining "Gag Reel" (12:21, SD) furthers the impression of good times on the set, and we get six "Deleted Scenes" (10:23, SD).
"Pro and Con" (6:44, HD) gives a behind-the-scenes overview with Eastin, Bomer, Thiessen, DeKay, Garson, and former FBI agent/technical consultant Tom Barden.
"A Cool Cat in the Hat" (5:41, HD) focuses on the series' style. Interviewees include Eastin, Bomer, Thiessen, Garson, DeKay, and costume designer Stephanie Maslansky.
Lastly, "Nothing But the Truth" (2:27, HD) finds Eastin and Barden explaining how the latter keeps the show honest about the workings of the FBI and con men.
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