Some shows are born great. Titans such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and The Wire are shows that have transcended time and will remain as some of the best the television screen has to offer. In between these giants, though, there are gems, and more often than not, these shows which many people initially dismiss as ‘boring’ or ‘small scale’ might actually turn out to be much more meaningful than anyone could have imagined. Such a description, I think, is perfect for White Collar, a show that has some of the cleverest writing and engrossing plots that I’ve ever seen on TV.
The show wastes no time in getting you right into the plot, beginning with the so-smooth-you-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that escape of Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a con artist who seems to take the art of being a criminal to another level. He waltzes right out of a maximum security prison, hotwires a car and escapes into the city, only to be promptly sent back by Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), who works for the White Collar division of the FBI, and is the one who put Neal into prison in the first place three years ago. However, before being escorted away, he asks Burke to meet him in his cell in a week, and when Burke indulges him, he reveals he wants to be part of a work-release program. With this, he gets a tracking anklet slapped on his wrist, and he assists Burke in catching the most elusive white collar criminals. After some hesitation, Burke accepts provisionally, and the two work together to crack the case that Peter is working on. The investigation goes so smoothly that Peter makes the arrangement permanent, and just like that, con artist Neal Caffrey starts to work for the FBI. However, he is also interested in pursuing threads from the life he left behind once he got imprisoned, namely the disappearance of his wife, Kate Moreau. Even though Peter tells him its a dead end, Neal isn’t one to give up so easily……
That’s about all I can say without getting too specific on certain plot points of the show. What’s truly fascinating about White Collar is the world that it manages to establish from the very beginning. In the first episode, the show establishes both the main leads and very important secondary characters in FBI agents Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins) and Diana Berrigan (Marsha Thomason), Neal’s best friend ‘Mozzie’ (Willie Garson), and Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen), Peter’s adorable wife. This handful of characters carry the show consistently throughout its six season run, with others coming and going as the plot thickens and developments in both Peter and Neal’s life occur.
At the surface, White Collar is just like every other cop drama flick or TV show out there - there’s the good cop/bad cop dynamic and they work surprisingly well together to catch criminals. However, what makes the show special is the way it slowly moves the viewer into the life of both Neal and Peter. Neal is set on finding his ex-girlfriend and Peter is always wary of Neal, convinced that he’ll try and run the first chance he gets. Over the course of the series, their begrudging nature gives way to a genuine friendship, so much so that when the chips are down and the stakes are high, they each strive to protect each other, often at great personal risks.
Of course, with Neal’s passion for conning, there is also the constant temptation to pull a fast one on Peter, and despite doing so multiple times, he always finds a way to get the job done for the FBI and solve the case he’s working on. Watching Neal Caffrey dissect art, historical artifacts and seeing how he fits pieces of a puzzle together is among the most satisfying things I’ve seen on TV in a very long time, and trust me when I say that it never gets old, not even in the later seasons. Unlike most other TV shows, White Collar only gets better and better as you go from one season to the next; even its shortest season (the final one) is extremely entertaining, and I had a lot of fun holding my breath as what seemed virtually impossible at the start of each episode happened right in front of me. Add ingenious camera work, extreme attention to detail, and the charm, grace, and finesse of both Bomer and DeKay, and every single scene becomes entertaining to watch.
White Collar is an enigma of a show, in my eyes. On the surface, it seems like nothing special, and perhaps that’s what’s caused so many people to write it off as ‘just another thriller’. There is almost no buzz surrounding this show, and granted, its been 5 years since the end of the show, but to see almost nobody talking about THIS good a show, even after this gap, is puzzling to me. Well, the directors and the cast can be rest assured that there are fans of the show, and will continue to recommend it to the highest degree, because if I’m being honest, there’s nothing quite like it on TV, and that’s saying something.