M: USA Network’s new show White Collar combined two things that I’m a fan of, Matthew Bomer and the basic premise of Catch Me If You Can. Bomer, most recently the late Bryce Larkin on the sibling favorite Chuck, first came onto my radar as the star of one of the best summer replacement shows of recent years, Traveler, that rare summer show that absolutely should have been picked up. In White Collar he stars as Neal Caffrey, in the Leonardo DiCaprio role from Catch Me, the impossibly clever con artist who is now helping out the FBI, with Carnivale‘s Tim Dekay joining as Peter Stokes, in the Tom Hanks role. Think of this as the adventures of Leo and Tom after the end of the movie, and you’ve got the idea.
Now, as we can tell from the opening scene of him escaping from prison, as well as the marketing campaign, the show is very clearly centered around Bomer. With that and the formulaic tendency of shows like this to turn the law enforcement type into a foil, or even a buffoon, I was a little apprehensive. However, I found Dekay’s character to have a refreshing level of intelligence and ability to hold his own, at least at times. (E: Agreed. It’s especially nice that he’s not grim and dour.) In one scene they have a rare book dealer mocking him, but he retorts with a ready wit, going into the pre-Disney history of the legend of Snow White. Heck, they even have him married to Tiffani Thiessen! Though – and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was – she looks a bit worse for the wear. (E: Rude! She finally looks like a grown up and you’re not used to it. And, also, your point?).
In the pilot episode they set the stage for the series; Caffrey breaks out of prison months before he was about to be paroled to try, unsuccessfully, to save his relationship with the mysterious Kate. Peter, the agent who chased him obsessively for three years, is called in to catch him again, and does. Caffrey works out a deal to help the FBI, and quickly swings another deal to live in luxury as the house guest of the legendary Diahann Carroll (whose first IMDb credit is a 1954 episode of the Red Skelton Show!), and starts having his associate/friend Mozzie (Sex and the City‘s Willie Garson) look into where Kate might be. Peter, on the other hand, is tracking down a white collar criminal called The Dutchman (E: I love these nicknames – next week, The Ghost!) with the help of Las Vegas‘ Marsha Thomason and a cadre of bungling Ivy League grads (while wearing the same suit he had on when he busted Caffrey years earlier). He’s also trying to remember his anniversary and figure out what his wife of 10 years actually likes. With less skill and humor than Catch Me If You Can, but an excellent bit of trickery in the end, they track down the Dutchman (Mark Sheppard, lately of Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13 and Dollhouse) , allowing Caffrey to stay on as a consultant for the next four years.
As much as the premise screams odd couple, the previously mentioned intelligence and wit they give Peter helps to fight off the cliche, for the first episode at least. The furthest they go with it is to make Peter more stodgy and resigned to his salary and financial limitations, while Caffrey is smooth, suave and charismatic, and goes and gets what he wants, despite any obstacles… you know, like the law. We’ll see if the writers get lazy with it, but the pilot was fairly well written and acted.