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September 2010

White Collar, season 1

cast: Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen, Natalie Morales, and Noah Emmerich

director: Jeff Eastin

626 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
review by Christopher Geary

White Collar - season one

Although crime movies usually depict situations where heroes and villains are clearly in opposition, even when the dividing lines between right and wrong are blurred (by circumstances or the motivation of characters), there's also a popular strand of team-up scenario, appending the comedy-adventure genre, during which a hero is working alongside the villain, either on a specific mission, or forming a regular partnership. A good example of this format is Stephen J. Cannell's cult-worthy TV series, Tenspeed And Brownshoe (1980), in which a smooth-talking ingenious conman (Ben Vereen) helps a gauche accountant (Jeff Goldblum) set-up his new business as a private eye.

Robert Butler and Michael Gleason also seized upon this notion for similarly themed series Remington Steele (1982-7), starring a pre-007 Pierce Brosnan as titular suave conman aiding and abetting Stephanie Zimbalist's investigations, while also sneakily lining his own pockets via whatever scams he can get away with. Romantic chemistry of Remington Steele - partly inspired, it seems, by The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) - influenced Glenn Gordon Caron's hugely successful Moonlighting (1985-9), starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis.

Before that, however, there was tougher action instead of merely wisecracking banter, in Walter Hill's buddy movie 48 Hrs. (1982), which teams Nick Nolte's cop with Eddie Murphy's crook; fresh out of prison, released into police custody to help solve a crime spree, and find a killer. The aforementioned, highly industrious, Cannell also created Hardcastle And McCormick (1983-6), which sees a retired judge (crusty Brian Keith) conscripting a parole-violating car thief/ racing driver (Daniel Hugh Kelly), to finally solve a stack of 'cold cases' that remain pending.

And so, we come to the latest incarnation of such chalk-and-cheese associate crime-busters, White Collar, where thief, conman, and forger Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is released from prison into the custody of FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay). While a GPS tracking anklet keeps Caffrey on a short leash, he's allowed to work as consultant on federal cases, bringing criminal expertise to bear for catching fraudsters and swindlers, and generally non-violent law-breakers.

"You turned 'fed'?"
"I was forced 'fed'..."

Using crooked Caffrey's range of underworld contacts, such as the paranoid eccentric Mozzie (Willie Garson), an FBI team of agents - in the fictional 'white collar' division - which include Lauren Cruz (Natalie Morales, sci-fi spoof TV series The Middleman) wade into elaborate felonies, with the controversial strategy of giving convicted thief Caffrey some authority to question suspects and handle evidence, or play undercover roles (despite already being notorious in certain quarters, well known to fences and forgers).

While middle-aged FBI guy Burke is happily married to professional party-organiser Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen, TV mini-series Pandemic), more flamboyant flimflam man Caffrey's dodgy shenanigans typically embrace spy game antics. He is not a reformed character, but now seems just mildly dishonest, instead of wickedly deceitful, so trust issues abound in his working relationship with strait-laced agent Burke.

Caffrey certainly lands on his feet when he's freed from prison. Taken in as a boarder by wealthy and charitable widow, June (Diahann Carroll), his penthouse flat comes with grand New York views and such impressive luxuries as imported coffee for breakfast. But everything is not plain sailing for Caffrey, because his mysteriously vanished ex-girlfriend Kate (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief) contacts him, apparently in serious trouble, and there's an OPR investigation from the federal equivalent of police's 'Internal Affairs' department, led by a detective who's sceptical about Caffrey's intentions and commitment to rehabilitation from his 'glamorous' life of crime, and the seemingly vindictive OPR agent would prefer it if Caffrey were back in prison.

Meanwhile, Burke and Caffrey find sufficient common ground on ethics and shared views on justice to profitably work together on cases raging from 'insider trading' by Wall Street stockbrokers, to a scandalous caper thriller involving a female burglar whose swag of jade may spark an international incident. Rare coins, fashion models' escapades, mischief with antiques that may be valuable or faked, and mortgage rackets, contrast with cases about organ trafficking, and industrial espionage concerning the hi-tech smuggling of stolen data, all providing a variety of frameworks for intriguing if not especially fascinating episodic TV.

The male-bonding chemistry between lead actors and their respective characters is a major plus in White Collar. Hints that both men have darker sides, well hidden even from those closest to them, adds another layer of clandestine deception to the rather basic scenario, which is light-hearted enough to fit a matinee time-slot.

This season one boxset is comprised of 14 episodes on four discs. DVD extras include exclusive featurettes: Pro And Con, and A Cool Cat In the Hat, with a gag reel, a batch of deleted scenes, plus audio commentary tracks on selected episodes.

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