Josh Wolk's Pop Culture Club talks 'White Collar': Was it fun crime or punishment?
Welcome to the Pop Culture Club, where every week we watch an “assignment” and then report back to discuss it. This week it was the new USA crime show White Collar, otherwise known as Catch Me if You Can for 48 Hrs. The concept: Dogged FBI agent Peter Burke releases his prize arrest – supersuave supercriminal Neil Caffrey – from jail to help the Fed track down other criminals. And here’s where things zig when you think they’re gonna zag: These guys are really different!
Caffrey was played by Matt Bomer, who looks like a male model version of Tom Everett Scott, while Burke was played by Tim DeKay. For years DeKay was one of “those guys,” an actor who popped up in every show and when you saw him you’d say, “Oh, it’s that guy!” but never knew his name. But he finally made an indelible impression on me as a frustrated suburban dad desperate to be a good guy in HBO’s engrossing sex-therapy show Tell Me You Love Me. His acting was great in it, but perhaps his memorability came from the fact that in the show he was often caught masturbating. Hear that, Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney? People wouldn’t have gotten you two so confused ten years ago if only one of you had taken a role in which you played with yourself.
DeKay elevated this show for me in the way he avoided the crusty-cop stereotypes, and he was the real draw. But while I found the White Collar pilot intermittently charming, I wasn’t instantly hooked. First of all, the odd couple lawman/criminal pairing felt tired to me. I know, Burke will constantly be playing by the rules, while the loosey-goosey Caffrey will gradually show him how to loosen his tie. Sigh. You know what would be interesting? Showing two people who are completely dissimilar and learn nothing from each other, but rather just cement their mutual resentment. I’m not saying it would be pleasant, but at least it would be different. Not to mention more realistic.
And then there were the easy plot shortcuts. Look, we’ve had this discussion before, but once again I was left thinking, “I am willing to suspend my disbelief as long as you don’t take advantage of it.” And by the end of the show, I was feeling taken advantage of. Need an example? Okay, what about having Diahann Carroll’s wealthy widow randomly show up to donate expensive vintage clothing mere seconds after Caffrey complained that he had nothing to wear? I was waiting for him to mention he was hungry, only to have a car speed by and throw a doughnut in his mouth. His character is meant to be charmingly persuasive, but it looked like Carroll’s patroness character was doing all the heavy lifting, he just stood there and accepted her largesse.
Some other moments that frustrated me as too easy: Early on, Caffrey shocked his coworkers with his superhuman observation skills when he guessed Caffrey’s feelings just by watching him in a prison meeting room surveillance tape without sound. My oh my, however did he figure out that Caffrey’s true love was leaving him, only by watching him press his hand against the glass, have it be ignored, and then silently yell for the woman as she walks away? Move over, Mentalist! What next, will he watch a Keystone Kop reel and deduce that these Kops are not effective lawmen?
And now that I’m gathering steam, what about the climax, in which Caffrey indirectly gave Burke permission to break into the forger’s lair by pretending to be a fugitive hiding there? Wouldn’t the forger’s lawyer be able to easily prove on the stand that since Burke never arrested Caffrey, it was clearly a set-up? And if for some reason this was a legally valid trick, Burke would never have to get another search warrant again. Any time he needed to paw through someone’s stuff, he could just throw Caffrey through the window and say, “Whoops, gotta go get my escaped convict. And now that I’m here: Hello, desk drawers!”
Look, maybe I’m nitpicking, but as I’ve said before, if writing is sloppy enough to take me out of the story, then that’s not my problem, it’s the script’s. I think the breezy White Collar has potential if they’d make the plots a bit more complicated. And I like that the new partners are equally matched in intelligence. At first I worried that they’d set up Burke as a brilliant cop, only to have him suddenly be rendered comparatively dopey by a debonair criminal who can identify the source of a dead artist’s paint just by the smell of a museum curator’s flatulence. But no, it’s a good balance.
So what did you think? Am I being too rough on the show? Do you think you’ll keep watching it? What do you think of Matt Bomer: Do you buy him as the slick criminal? And what about Willie Garson? He was another “that guy” for me for years, usually playing some order of nebbish, so when I first saw him on Sex and the City as the flamboyant Stanford, I didn’t buy him in the role. And yet now, years later, seeing him as a shadowy con man…I can only think of him as Stanford.
Before we discuss, here’s next week’s assignment: Maybe it’s all that talk about Tim DeKay’s chicken choking, but it’s got me in the mood to watch the premiere of the new VH1 series Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew. Wait, where are you going, come back! Trust me on this one: I was addicted to all of his Celebrity Rehabs and Sober House, but not for the reasons you’d think. Well, I went into them for the reasons you’d think: Ha ha, look at the bottomed-out C-lister! But the (mostly) frank and unblinking look at just how their lives went awry was tragically riveting. Not sure if the same will hold true for sex addicts, but let’s find out! It premieres this Sunday at 10 p.m. on VH1. (CBS sports can’t possibly so late that a delayed Amazing Race will bump into it.)
Okay, and now to White Collar…
PHOTO CREDIT: David Giesbrecht/USA