(USA) White Collar is a smart, absorbing crime drama that pays far more than the usual amount of attention to its characters. It's alternately thrilling, intriguing, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Watching the pilot episode, it's quickly apparent that this show has got wit, style, and brains in equal measure. The premise is set up with breathtaking speed and efficiency: Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a resourceful and accomplished forger of priceless artworks who escapes from prison three months before his sentence is up, only to be caught once more by the FBI man who initially tracked him down. When Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) asks Caffrey why he would risk another four years in jail, Caffrey reveals that his girlfriend Kate Moreau (Alexandra Daddario) has left him and disappeared. He suspects she was coerced into leaving, having sensed something off in her demeanor when she visited him for the last time and left him a goodbye present – a mysterious wine bottle.
Already, this is a unique story. When Caffrey is able to give Burke a tip that helps him catch another notorious forger, Burke offers Caffrey a deal: help him solve his cases, and he'll get Caffrey out of prison on a work-release program. Caffrey wears a tracking bracelet around his ankle so he can't get far, and Burke makes him promise not to go after Kate. There's little chance Caffrey will keep this promise, however, and he soon enlists the help of former associate Mozzie (Willie Garson) to follow her trail between solving crimes.
Two things are notable about White Collar. The first is that the plots of the episodes rarely go where you expect them to. The show does for art theft and forgery what Alias did for international espionage – subverts expectations and creates a satisfying mythology.
The second thing to note is that Burke and Caffrey have a fantastic chemistry that leads to many outstanding moments of subtle humor and unexpected emotion. It's like watching the operation of some enigmatic clockwork device from the Renaissance and wondering at what makes it go. The two are essentially the standard odd couple – Caffrey with his expensive tastes and devious mind, Burke with his cop's practicality and dry wit – but Bomer and DeKay add multiple dimensions of nuance to each scene. One can easily believe that these men would be both worthy opponents and grudging friends.
In addition to these excellent qualities, the show develops a compelling mystery surrounding Kate and her shadowy captors. Bomer does a great job of balancing Caffrey's devil-may-care playboy persona with a hidden soulful side that makes us believe he's genuinely obsessed with finding the love of his life.
If suspenseful tales involving high-society subterfuge and esoteric art objects are your cup of tea, then White Collar holds many delights in store. Even those who don't care a whit about the details of forgery and police procedure will find a great deal to appreciate in the sparkling dialogue and unusual selection of characters. It's an out-of-the-gate winner that keeps your neurons firing and your heartbeat elevated.
Why We Like It: great characters, very unusual premise, keeps you guessing