Imagine international art thief and children’s geography game character Carmen Sandiego — in reform. Throw in a little La Femme Nikita. This is Neil Caffrey (Matt Bomer), mastermind forger, art thief, and dapper dandy, in the USA series White Collar. Towards the end of his four-year jail sentence for his white collar crimes, Caffrey escapes from prison to search for his girlfriend — who he presumes is in trouble — only to be captured again by the FBI agent who originally busted him, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay). Caffrey enters a deal with Burke, in which the former art thief will help the FBI track down criminals such as himself. A bond of trust between the two men slowly begins to form.
The “white collar” also refers to the electronic anklet worn by Caffrey to enable the FBI to monitor his whereabouts up to a two mile-radius. What distinguishes White Collar from other crime dramas such as TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles (a Bones/Castle knock-off with little plot or character coherence) and USA’s Covert Affairs (a watered down, low-budget version of Alias) is that the show exudes style from every pore.
The older man/younger man, father/son-type duo features as a nice throwback to the past. Agent Burke himself is an older, charming gentleman, hard-nosed but with a heart of gold. It’s reminiscent of old Law & Order or even In the Heat of Night. Unconventional duos also appear to be in vogue on television: the homicide detective and the mystery writer (Castle), the FBI agent/ex-soldier and the anthropologist (Bones), and here, the FBI special agent and the “personal criminal consultant” as he is referred to in Episode 201: Withdrawal.
The theme of Caffrey’s girlfriend, her involvement with shady characters, and an artifact in the form of a music box all form recurring themes throughout the show. While it focuses on its male characters, it does not sideline women. The beautiful and saucy Agent Diana Barrigan, played by Marsha Thomason (a Brit of Jamaican origin) only serves to heighten the stylishness. Coupled with a strong penchant for situational irony and elegance of plot, White Collar has me hooked. Incidentally, I stumbled upon it while waiting for Covert Affairs; White Collar is the superior drama Tuesday nights on USA.