'White Collar' switches up tired formula


By Alex Intner, For the Daily
Published October 23, 2013

Starting with the premiere of “Burn Notice” in 2006, USA Network has made a name for itself by making easy-to-digest hours of television set in aesthetically bright places. They have a small arc that continues week-to-week (usually covered in the beginning and the end of each episode), but they mainly focus on weekly cases. Shows like “Royal Pains” have embraced this model, making episodes that are easy to keep up with, but are not necessarily entertaining.

White Collar

Season five premiere
Thursdays at 9 p.m.

“White Collar” has never been completely comfortable with this structure. Over the first four seasons, it has helped usher in a change at the network by not blindly following its strict structure. It put more of an emphasis on the serialized arc and the character relationships than other shows on the network, leading to a much more interesting and fulfilling show.

The premiere sets up what should be another solid season. The previous season ended with FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, “Party of Five”) arrested for a murder he did not commit, and the premiere deals with criminal Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer, “Chuck”) trying to save him from going to jail. Neal makes a deal with a criminal named the Dutchman (played by the always welcome and always amazing Mark Sheppard, “Supernatural”), and, in return for dealing some gold (stolen by Neal) and assistance with his upcoming appeal, the Dutchman set Peter free.

At the center of the show is the most compelling element: the relationship between Neal and Peter. Over the course of four seasons, the writers have built a relationship where, even when there is not total trust, the two characters respect one another. Watching Bomer and DeKay work together on screen is amazing, and the chemistry they have built shows in their interactions on screen.

“White Collar” usually structures its arcs around this friendship. The writers put some obstacle between the two (usually involving Neal keeping a secret), creating tension between them. They use the same outline for each season, but the variations they use are different enough that the repetition is not a problem.

Even with the already strong plot, a good case of the week can make a huge difference. This week’s case, involving Peter looking into Neal’s theft, was entertaining enough. It wasn’t gripping television, but Neal working around Peter’s investigation to cover up his theft was fun to watch.

It doesn’t aim to be one of the best shows on television, and it’s not, but “White Collar” is enjoyable and lightweight. It’s great to watch Bomer and DeKay work together. Even if the show has done the “Neal does illegal things and keeps it from Peter” plotline before, there is enough to differentiate it from similar arcs in the past, making the show better than the average USA procedural.