In 2002, Steven Spielberg directed the film Catch Me If You Can starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. It centered around the true story of a brilliant con artist gallivanting around the country and the relentless FBI agent tasked with capturing him. It is one of Spielberg’s better, yet, forgotten films. Hanks is great, Leo is great, and Christopher Walken steals every scene he’s in. The film itself ends…(SPOILER ALERT) with Leo, the criminal, beginning to help Hanks, the FBI agent, solve some of the white collar crimes in order to commute his sentence. This is where the USA Network show White Collar picks up.
White Collar is a procedural dramedy…or…comedrama…wait…that sounds stupid…lets stick with dramedy….about a master thief/con artist helping the FBI capture criminals while trying to stay on the straight and narrow himself. A concept that serves as a great foundation and a smart jump off for some very original ideas rarely seen on a typical procedural cop show. As with most USA Network shows, White Collar doesn’t shine when it sticks to the monster of the week procedural formula. It shines when they focus on their character’s chemistry and ONE all encompassing story arc. If there is one thing you can say about USA, most of their shows have casts and characters WITH CHEMISTRY. Whether that be Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and the LEGENDARY Bruce Campbell on Burn Notice….Gabrielle Macht and Patrick J. Adams on Suits…or here with Tim DeKay, Matt Bomer and Willie Garson on White Collar. You like these characters and you like to see them have conversations with each other, no matter what they’re talking about. This serves White Collar very well.
Where White Collar draws some critique is in its occasional tone shifts. Where Catch Me If You Can is more drama than comedy, White Collar is more of the latter. It feels more at home in the CUTE, light-hearted format. For example, the tone of film The Sting, is where White Collar might want to stay. However, there are instances where the show tries to get serious and dark. However, it doesn’t ring very believable because its such a departure from the tone it has originally set. Burn Notice is a show that can be fun then turn dark and it works because of the nature of the hero. (A Burned Spy) A white collar criminal or con artist isn’t usually confrontational. Danny Ocean isn’t ever going to beat the sh*t out of someone or kill anyone. Neither should Neal Caffrey.
Now, I can’t blame the show runner Jeff Eastin too much for something that happens occasionally. I’m willing to bet they’ve been knudged into shifting tone by USA during finales or sweeps. Mainly because there is nothing that television networks love more than running an ad with somber music and a gravely voiced narrator whispering “On A Special Episode Of….Fill In The Blank” with text flashing across the screen that reads “ALL…BETS…ARE…OFF!” And for the most part, Eastin’s show stays true to it’s better nature.
White Collar benefits from its concept, its cast, (Which includes KELLY F*#KING KAPOWSKI) and its cleverness. Its good fun when it remembers it is supposed to be fun. Watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.