USA Network has certainly found a little niche for themselves, milking their “characters wanted” run of television shows. It all started with Monk and has progressed through several successful reincarnations of the quirky character-driven shows. In some cases the quirky nature of the characters gets pretty out of control, and while I liked Monk a ton, his OCD was significantly over the top at times. This tends to draw too much attention and minimize whatever might be happening in the episode itself. That’s not the case with White Collar. This series has a ton of potential to be the next big breakaway hit for the cable network. There’s just enough style to the main character to make him incredibly interesting, but not so much that the exceptional stories don’t get your full attention. I don’t get to watch that many television shows these days. I’m too busy keeping you guys from making bad DVD or Blu-ray choices. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. I’m not complaining, really. It just stands to reason that I will miss the occasionally solid new show to hit the airwaves. Such is the case for me and White Collar. Fortunately for both of us, I get the chance to catch up when the shows inevitably reach the home theater market. Fortunate for me because I do eventually get to see them. Fortunate for you because I can let you know when there’s something you might have missed that you need to see. This is one of those times.
Neal Caffrey (Bomer) is an elite thief and con artist. He’s an expert forger and is doing four years after finally getting caught by FBI agent Peter Burke (DeKay). With just three months remaining on his 4-year stint, Neal breaks out of prison. Now, what would make a guy escape when he’s almost finished doing his time? The answer, of course, is a woman. In this case it’s Kate (Daddario) who broke up with Neal on her last prison visit. But, Neal is convinced there is more to the story, so he takes a powder from prison, only to be caught again by Peter. Now Neal is facing another four years behind bars. Fortunately, however, Peter is trying to catch one of his most elusive criminals. He calls him The Dutchman because he’s like a ghost. Neal offers his arch-rival a deal. Peter releases him into his own custody, and Neal will help him track down the Dutchman. If the case goes well, the deal can be made permanent for the rest of Neal’s prison time. So, ala 48 Hours, the duo track down the crook. Neal ends up talking his way into a multi-million-dollar mansion suite for his new digs. While he helps Peter, he is secretly trying to track down Kate, who is mixed up with a mysterious stranger. Neal only knows him by a pinky ring he’s seen in a photograph. The stranger wants something he believes Neal stole and has stashed away somewhere. Neal’s investigation hits several snags, not the least of which is an ankle bracelet that only allows him to traverse a 2-mile radius of his home when he’s not with Peter. To help out with some of the legwork, he has Mozzie (Garson), an old friend and fellow con artist.
The series creator should be given a tip of the proverbial hat for taking the “characters wanted” mantra to heart. The best part of the series is evident quite quickly in the pilot episode of the series. The two leads share a very complicated and nuanced chemistry that makes the show compelling even if the particular story isn’t as interesting. That’s not to say that the cases are dull, but they’re not anything we haven’t seen before in a hundred other procedurals. What makes this series shine is that relationship. In Peter we see that he admires Neal for his skills, but will only grudgingly give him credit for his achievements. He also harbors some resentment for the guy. He envies Neal’s ability to sweet-talk himself out of jams and into great circumstances like his room with a view. Still he kind of likes the guy and will jealously protect him when the chips are down. Neal’s feelings are far less complicated, but just as nuanced. He respects Peter as the only guy who ever caught him … twice. He also knows that Peter is his only way to stay out of prison and track down Kate. They may not trust each other, but they do rely on each other. It’s quite an entertaining dynamic to watch. After seeing these 14 episodes of season one, I can tell you very little about the cases themselves. Somehow they aren’t that important. But, I do have a ton of memories of those character moments. That’s the kind of thing that makes this a great buy on home video, because you can watch it over again and still be entertained even if you do know how it all works out.
Another character of note here happens to be Mozzie, Neal’s con artist friend. He’s played by Willie Garson, and he is absolutely the comedy heart of the show. He also has enough odd impulses to make him a great USA wanted character. He’s paranoid and somewhat particular about what he’s willing to do, or not. When he’s playing a con, he really gets into his part. Much the same can be said of Garson himself. He’s always been great at these somewhat-scumbag-but-lovable characters. Remember Henry from NYPD Blue? He’s played this same character on shows ranging from CSI to The X-Files and Stargate SG-1. The second character of import here is Peter’s Wife Elizabeth (Thiessen). She’s the heart of the series. She keeps Peter’s attitude toward Neal in check and provides the time-out-to-think moments when the two get on each other’s nerves. She’s a good choice here, but part of some unfortunate casting. She looks almost exactly like Alexandra Daddario, who plays Kate. It’s quite stunning how much they look alike. She also looks too much like Sarah Lancaster, who play’s Chuck’s sister Ellie on Chuck.
Each episode usually features some master criminal and his extremely clever crime. Neal has to think like the bad guy and come up with a plan to outwit him. These often involve him having to forge something himself or come up with a counter-con. He often bends the rules a bit, which doesn’t sit well with the by-the-book Peter. There is a mythology in the series which centers around Kate and her mysterious stranger. The show runners here really know how to do show mythology. It’s never heavy-handed. You can drop in and still not feel completely lost.
The season appears to be split into two parts. Likely they were shown at different times of the year, a common practice on USA shows. Mid-way through the season the opening credits change, and the mythology really kicks in with the introduction of Garrett Fowler played by Noah Emmerich. He’s an FBI internal investigator and becomes a regular nemesis for the series and its final first season episodes. The season ends with a blast of a cliffhanger.
Look for the stock-footage shot lifted from Spider-Man 2 in the pilot episode. If you look for it, you’ll see Peter Parker riding down the street on his pizza delivery scooter.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of between 25-30 mbps. The show looks very sharp in high definition. Colors are brilliant and detail level is very high. Neal is a “rat pack” style dresser, and the textures and fabric colors look quite nice in this image presentation. There are a lot of exterior shots in this series, and the bright daylight scenes look particularly sweet. This is what high-definition television always promised it would be.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 serves the basic dialog and score elements well. There aren’t a lot of dynamic action scenes, so surrounds never really get very aggressive. I will say that the sub levels here are quite impressive, particularly during the theme music and menu sequences.
There are select commentaries with cast and crew as well as a handful of deleted scenes. The 14 episodes are found over 3 discs with the following extras on the third disc.
Gag Reel: (12:21) This is a little too long for a gag reel. It also looks too staged in places.
Pro And Con: (6:44) This feature looks at Neal character and examines his style. Cast and crew all chime in on the subject.
A Cool Cat In The Hat: (2:27) A look at Neal’s wardrobe.
Nothing But The Truth: (2:27) A look at Tom Barden, a real retired FBI agent who consults on the show to give it some realism.
A lot happens in just 14 episodes. The show has plenty of character moments without slowing down the pace of the story. They will fly by quickly, to be sure. I was able to watch five episodes in just one sitting without ever feeling fatigued or bored. If you have seen the show, I don’t have to tell you how fresh it is. If you haven’t, then these Blu-rays are your chance to enjoy it for yourself. I know Blu-rays cost a couple of bucks, but it’s worth it, I assure you. The only question you have left to ask is, “Do you trust me?”