The first 10 episodes of White Collar have been such a happy surprise for me. It’s actually the first USA (the network, not the country XP) original series I’ve really sat and watched, outside of a couple of eps of Psych I’ve caught here and there, and while I’d read that USA has been doing very well for itself in developing engaging tv series, I also wasn’t really sure how much to expect from it.
That is to say, I loved Matt Bomer as Bryce in Chuck, and I do love the charming rogue character type, so on paper it seems a no-brainer that I should have been watching White Collar* all along because it’s right up my alley, but when I finally went to watch I also didn’t want to set expectations too high, because… I just prefer not to do that, and really I just went in expecting to see Bryce Larkin running around being an amusing con-man.
*Credit where it’s due: Amanda told me several times that I should watch this show, and I basically nodsmiled and didn’t listen. She was right, and I should have listened!
Anyway. Not only does White Collar delivers on the expected fun and the writing itself is pretty damn consistent, actually (although I will admit that things tend to work out really neatly, plot-wise; even the screw ups are extremely convenient… but it’s not really on a level where it’s anything more than a “literary” liberty). But it’s the characters where it really shines (yeah, I know, “characters welcome” and all that). I like details like the fact that when Neal and Peter are drinking together, Peter has beer and Neal has wine, because something like that does so much to establish who both of these guys are. I like that it takes the time to do a sequence about Mozzie geeking out over a Chinese movie about high stakes domino games and Neal hilariously sitting through it all and clearly not getting what’s so AWESOME about a domino game, because you know what? I’ve been on both sides of that situation. I found it endearing and funny that Elizabeth’s reaction to finding out that Peter had to flirt with another woman to get intel was to have a laughing fit and tease him about how much he sucks at flirting.
Neal Caffrey himself is just perfectly charming and witty. A character like this, always one step ahead of everyone else, who knows he’s good-looking and intelligent, could easily go beyond cocky and come off as kind of an arrogant douche (although to be fair, I’d probably like him just as much if he was that), but Matt Bomer plays him with a mix of impulsiveness, mischief and a certain matter of fact directness about his own abilities to charm and outwit that makes him very likable. I’d say as far as charm and sheer likability he’s actually comparable to Nathan Fillion’s Rick Castle.
The one thing that made me want whack Neal upside the head at the beginning of the series is how whenever he has a choice between coming clean with information in a way that could save everyone a lot of complications, or keeping quiet and making everything worse, he will always choose to keep quite. The first few episodes I was afraid that it would mean this was the sort of series where characters never talk to each other because the plot needs them to keep each other in the dark even when it’s unrealistic for this happen; but as the story unfolded it became obvious that this isn’t a case of plot dictating unrealistic character actions so much as the fact that it’s one hundred per cent in character for Neal Caffrey to behave this way. In particular, the episodes which play with making it seem like Peter is the FBI agent that may be holding Neal’s ex, and Neal’s actions when he starts to suspect that this might be the case make it obvious that Neal has a compulsive, uncontrollable need to keep secrets and put up smokes and mirrors. And it makes a lot of sense, because a con-man, especially a con-man as good as Neal, is obviously going to have huge trust issues. Not to mention the fact that I think Neal just enjoys secrets and keeps aces up his sleeves simply because it’s exciting and fun.
Which is probably why one of my favorite scenes so far is in episode 10.
Neal: You should know this. Out of all the people in my life, Mozzie, even Kate, you’re the only one.
Peter: The only one what?
Neal: The only person in my life I trust.
Because… that’s just so much right there. Because it hasn’t come easy; because Neal doesn’t trust anyone; because these two guys in particular, even though they clearly enjoy each other’s company, are obviously going to be putting this rapport in check because their circumstances dictate that they shouldn’t actually be friends, that they can’t trust the other to have their back. And yet in spite of everything Neal says he trusts Peter, and you know he means it, because he’s been drugged and is thus loopy and high. And Peter looks frankly shell-shocked at the revelation and it’s just such a great little moment, and in the end the truth is that as much as I’m a sucker for Neal, his unlikely friendship with Peter is just as much the reason I’m loving this show.