Wednesday, October 28, 2009

White Collar 1.00: "Pilot"

“No. No more relationship advice from this side of the car. Call Dr. Phil, okay?”


I was conflicted about whether or not to try “White Collar,” USA’s new drama about an FBI agent and the former forger/criminal extraordinaire in his custody. On the one hand, I love “Catch Me if You Can,” and this is sort of like the arrangement Abignale and Handratty had at the end of that movie. Also, it has a similar reformed criminals have fun doing what they do best for the good guys vibe as Leverage (which I love) and Sneakers (one of my favorite movies). On the other hand, it stars Matt Bomer, who, I must admit, is pretty to look at, but he played Bryce Larkin on Chuck. I will never forget that episode in the first season of Chuck where, at every act break, it seemed like Bryce had been killed. When he was actually killed (I think…probably) in the season 2 finale, I thought it was about time! Yeah, I admit it, I’m a Chuck/Sarah shipper to an extreme degree.

Thankfully, I was able to separate Bomer from his former character, and I really enjoyed his performance and the show overall. Bomer plays Neal Caffrey, a convicted felon. He was convicted for bank forgery, but he’s been suspected of many more crimes that no one can actually prove. The episode opens with Neal still in prison, but that doesn’t last long. Equipped with a corrections officer uniform and a do-it-yourself security pass (who would have thought tape decks could still be useful), Neal escapes from prison with only days left on his sentence. He hotwires a maintenance truck, and he’s outta there (sorry…watching my Phillies play the Yankees and channeling a little bit of our dear, departed Harry Kalas). Once safely in the city, Neal manages to get himself a bright yellow jacket and blends in with valet parking attendants. As a faux valet attendant, he naturally scores himself a much sweeter ride than a maintenance truck.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the Carl Handratty of our story, is supervising a team of agents trying to open what looks like a safe deposit box, except with combination locks. Peter is after a criminal dubbed “The Dutchman,” and The Dutchman is always one step ahead. This time is no exception. Peter realizes The Dutchman knew they were coming just as the safecracker dials in the final number of the combination…and a bomb goes off. Miraculously, nobody is injured, except maybe Peter’s pride.

Peter doesn’t have time to dwell on The Dutchman’s temporary victory, however. The U.S. Marshal Service wants Peter to help them find and re-capture Neal. Peter was the guy who arrested Neal in the first place, so they think he has the best chance to do it again. All it takes is a quick look at some surveillance footage and the prison visitors’ log for Peter to figure out where Neal is. He finds Neal at the abandoned home of Neal’s ex-girlfriend Kate, clutching an empty wine bottle and looking despondent. Neal notices a stray fiber on Peter’s coat- debris from the explosion. He says that he can tell Peter what the fiber is if Peter agrees to visit him in prison in one week. Peter agrees. It’s a security fiber from a Canadian $100 bill.

As promised, Peter meets with Neal in jail. Neal has done his homework, and he wants a deal. He wants to be released from prison into Peter’s custody in exchange for helping Peter catch The Dutchman. Peter is skeptical that Neal will actually behave himself if released and doesn’t agree to the deal. Neal is devastated and trashes his cell in a fit of frustration later that night. Peter is frustrated as well due to being fooled again by the Dutchman. A conversation with his wife, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) convinces him that he needs Neal’s help after all.

Post-prison life isn’t what Neal hoped. Peter sets him up in a bottom of the barrel motel/hostel type place that is home to quite the colorful cast of characters, and Neal can’t venture outside a two mile radius of the place or he’ll set off his GPS tracking device. Neal doesn’t let it get him down for long, though. A quick trip to a thrift store and the gift of gab gets Neal a guest room in a mansion with a great rooftop view that just happens to be within the allowable two mile radius. Peter, understandably, is incredulous.

Essentially, Neal is able to solve the case by getting information from his friend Mozzie, who is still connected into the criminal underground. After Neal figures out that The Dutchman has been smuggling in Spanish books to forge World War II era Spanish Victory Bonds, Mozzie supplies both the name of the most likely suspect and the address of the warehouse making the forged bonds. Neal takes a trip to the warehouse and purposely sets off his GPS tracker to give the FBI an exception to the warrant requirement so they can raid the place (bonus points for correctly invoking federal criminal procedure, or at least the simplified version I learned in bar prep).

I’m hoping that not every case is solved by the “Mozzie gets information nobody else can” method. It’s a bit too convenient, and that could get old quick. I’d rather see Neal use his own unique cunning, charm, and criminal experience to solve cases. I also didn’t quite buy Peter’s quick acceptance of Neal as a crime fighting partner. Peter is naturally skeptical of Neal, since he knows Neal’s history, and there’s some funny, cute banter between the two of them (mostly over what Peter should get Elizabeth for their anniversary), but it’s all really light and just scratching the surface. Peter even uses the rooftop at Neal’s new place to surprise Elizabeth at the end of the episode.

That said, I did enjoy the pilot overall. I liked that it looks like Peter and Neal will be solving all sorts of crimes, not just murders like your garden variety crime procedural. I love heist movies and stories, so if most of the stories White Collar tells are about cons, thefts, and forgeries, I’ll be a happy viewer. I also do appreciate the lighter tone of the show, and I suppose that tone is to be expected considering it’s on USA. White Collar is shaping up to be a fun way to spend Friday nights at 10:00 until Psych is back in January.

No comments:

Post a Comment