Sunday, August 5, 2012

Opinion — More Fun Than A Barrel Of Cat Burglars

At the absolutely opposite end of TV drama like The Wire is White Collar.  While the former is the toughest, most graphic, grittiest and most powerful crime drama ever on television, the latter is light-hearted, witty, funny escapist fiction.  And I’m enjoying every minute of it. Sometimes you are in the mood for ice cream.

Because I’ve only partially stepped into the modern world, I do not have cable TV or a big metal dish hovering like a spaceship outside my window.   Therefore I am watching each 42-minute episode on disc, which allows me to do these periodic White Collar marathons.   So I watch four at a time.  I overdo Hagan Daz Swiss Almond Vanilla in much the same way.  So, you see, I am keeping this ice cream metaphor alive.  Intentionally.

There are few swear words in White Collar.  Sex is treated just slightly more adventurously than The Brady Bunch.  New York City is a bright, sunny, extraordinarily clean and stylish place no matter where they are.  Even dingy warehouses resemble trendy lofts more than dingy warehouses.  People dress well.  And the crimes are, as the title suggests, high-end.  Unlike most cops and robbers shows, where the bodies pile up, there is only an occasional death and it is usually off-screen.  The whole gestalt is a TV screen-sized To Catch A Thief.  Normally a PG-rated show like this would be a debit in the mental calculation I make before committing time or money to a book or movie.  But I’ve not come up short.

Jeff Eastin
The whole thing seems so easy. Series creator Jeff Eastin has developed a simple and familiar set-up.  A talented, charming con man is released from prison only if he helps a by-the book FBI agent capture criminals like him.  It’s been done before. Nothing special there. The magic is in the intricate plotting and in the characters, which have been carefully and lovingly drawn and acted.

Actor Matt Bomer plays the con artist character who is the catalyst for all the action. The character is appropriately charming, endowed with the prerequisite mix of shallow emotions that hide a clever and learned mind.  His character plays off against his equally smart but usually one-step behind chaperone and FBI agent, played by Tim DeKay.  DeKay balances straight bureau stuffiness with humor and likeability very well.  Willie Garson is a brainy conman and Bomer confidante.  He is the go-to, quirky guy who is handy at all things, good to have around when things get difficult.  Tiffani Thiessen plays the FBI wife or Mrs. Suit.  Her ability to play sweet and devoted while making sure she doesn’t come off as too sweet and too selfless is an artful tight rope act. Sharif Atkins and Marsha Thomason are first class actors playing first class characters rounding out the regulars on the FBI team.  Diahann Carroll plays a recurring role as the owner of the mansion our lovable and loyalty-torn con artist calls home.

Season four is being broadcast now on the USA channel.  Unfortunately I am at the end of season three and four is not ready for Netflix.  So, as I do with Mad Men, I’ll have to wait to feed my addiction. But if you haven’t started and enjoy a not too taxing escape, start at season one.  Usually, when I do the film pairings on Friday, I recommend something to drink while watching the double feature.  This is perfect for your frozen dessert — sorbet, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.  Perhaps something light and nutty.


Anonymous said...

Shallow emotions? Are we watching the same program?

Ronald Tierney said...

I wish I knew how to answer that. This is a wonderful, improbable show. We're talking about sunken Nazi treasure, for example, and a lead character who uses his charm to get what he wants. This isn't a fault in my mind, merely an attribute of the character who is essential to why the show works.

Patrick Murtha said...

I concur with your appreciation. High-quality light entertainment is actually quite difficult to pull off. One way that "White Collar" scores big-time is in its believable portrayal of a marriage that flat-out works - Tim DeKay and Tiffani Thiessen are terrific together. You always sense that he knows how lucky he is, not the least of his good fortune being that Thiessen is the sort of spouse that absolutely everyone likes - how could they not? Even Garson, who is wary of "The Suit," is utterly charmed by the Mrs.

Ronald Tierney said...

Patrick, thanks. I'd like to see more programs like "White Collar."