White Collar: TV Review

Jan 14, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Deborah Harter Williams, Mysteryrat's Maze, TV

by Deborah Harter Williams

It takes a thief to catch a thief. It’s a sure-fire plot premise that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Raffles*, John Robie, Thomas Crown and Simon Templar have all worn the mantle with great style as portrayed by David Niven, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore.

On the small screen we’ve had Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner), his father Alistair (Fred Astaire) and Remington Steele (Brosnan). Neal George Caffrey of USA Network’s White Collar is the latest incarnation and returns with new shows starting January 17th. (USA’s seasons are hard to track. The next six shows are actually the end of season three with season four beginning next summer.)

The great thing about heist shows is that there is some relief from perps, punch-ups and gross-up shots from the ME’s table. Rather, you can expect liberal doses of fine art, rare wine and jewels with good guys and bad clad in tuxedos and gowns. Caffrey’s default wardrobe is Sy Devore suits and fedora.

At the heart of any good gentleman thief plot is the relationship between the thief and the cop. Actors Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay (FBI Agent Peter Burke) make this work – the uneasy friendship of accountant lawman and the sophisticated criminal. As we rejoin the series cliffhanger, Peter’s wife Elizabeth has been kidnapped as a pawn in a high stakes game that features a fortune in stolen art.

Tiffani Thiessen takes the often-thankless “wife” character and makes it sparkle. Attractive and real (i.e. not an anorexic blonde), she is a smart and savvy event planner with an art background. She nicely balances her husband’s character and makes the relationship believable and enviable. An unofficial part of the team, she often serves as a buffer between Peter and the con men, Neal and Mozzie.

As the action comes to a head, the pressure is on. Will Neal risk his freedom to save Elizabeth? Or, will he take his chance to abscond with the art as urged by Mozzie? We know he’s a thief at heart but he’s also a thief with a heart. Loyalty to Peter, concern for Elizabeth vs. the potential freedom and fortune from the art and an ultimatum from his partner in crime, mix with the desire to get the bad-guy (Keller), and the love of a good insurance investigator (Sara). Oh yes, and the importance of not getting caught.

The show has a great ensemble cast with a lot of moving pieces, cleverly crafted by series creator Jeff Eastin. Eastin’s background has a dramatic storyline as well. Graduating from Colorado State in Journalism, he directed two films for Roger Corman’s company shooting in Colorado. So he set out for Hollywood in his Volkswagen van ready for his career as a director. On the drive across country he wrote a screenplay to help get him in the door. Arriving in LA his van was stolen and he took a job working at Kinkos.

But his screenplay got optioned and his next got made into a movie with Jamie Foxx. After work on the short-lived series Shasta (UPN) and Hawaii (NBC), he envisioned a dark drama, a la The Shield, with the premise that a bad cop gets sprung from jail to help on a case and has to wear an ankle monitor. But, while interviewing at USA for another job, they asked him if he had anything to pitch. Running his dark show idea through what he calls USA’s “blue sky” filter, the dark cop became the white collar criminal, Neal Caffrey.

* E.W. Hornung’s Raffles, the first modern gentleman thief, made his debut in 1898. The author was the brother in law of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Learn more about White Collar on the show website.

If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime: Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012. Registration is only $225 & day passes can be purchased for $75 for Friday and Saturday panel sessions. Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to rb@robinburcell.com or cindy@cindysamplebooks.com.

Deborah Harter Williams works as a mystery scout, seeking novels that could be made into television. She blogs at Clue Sisters and was formerly a mystery bookstore owner.


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