When White Collar premiered, I realized my TV season was saved; I had a series to look forward to each week. But somewhere between watching ‘Book of Hours’ and ‘Flip of the Coin’, and jotting down a whole bunch of notes, I realized I absolutely adored the show. More than that, it’s the show. The show that, quite unexpectedly, has filled the void left by Battlestar Galactica’s end. And other than, for the moment, sharing a 10:00pm Friday night time slot, the two series couldn’t be more different.
I’ve always had one show consume my brain every season. The show you do not call me during. The show I rewatch several times before typing my thoughts out and posting. The show that drives me to watch whatever else the leads have appeared in. Though, in this instance, it’s having seen Tim DeKay in Carnivale and Matt Bomer in Chuck that encouraged me to check out White Collar.
There was a time when I worried about not having a show to follow diligently every season. What would I do when The X-Files ended? (Yes, that question was asked sometime between seasons six and seven. ;) But then came Buffy and Farscape and I learned one obsession would end and another would soon begin.
When it was announced Galactica would end it’s run, I wasn’t worried. There would be another show to take it’s place. There always was. Of course, the one time I’m not worried The Sarah Conner Chronicles is cancelled. Dollhouse repulses me. Stargate: Universe lived up to - or should I say down to - my expectations. And V has yet to excite me.
So the towel was in my hand and was ready to throw it in the ring. My sixteen year television run had come to an end. Sniff.
But it would be OK. I would have my life back! A year without a fandom! Then came Neal Caffrey and Peter and Elizabeth Burke and damn you
Does White Collar live up to the writing quality of the other series I mentioned? No. Could it? Sure. I’m still not a fan of the first season of Buffy. Many series start out rocky and only achieve greatness later. The plots are thin at best and full of holes at worst. And ‘Book of Hours’ had some serious editing and continuity issues, unless Neal actually changes clothes three times a day.
What the show does have going for it is smart dialogue that still sounds as if it would be spoken by real people. Directors who take excellent advantage of New York City as a back drop. And a talented, charismatic cast with two leads that clicked immediately.
It’s the friendship between Neal and Peter that pushed me over the line from like to love. I enjoy seeing a little male bonding. Not in that way, though, yeah I can see that too. But more on that later.
I lament the lack of male friendships on TV. We see female friendships. We see families. Mostly we see angsty romances drawn out over too many seasons. Farscape did have John and D’Argo, but John and Aeryn’s relationship was the central relationship to the show. A friendship is growing between Nate, Eliot and Hardison on Leverage, but those are three guys with trust issues and the relationships will, as a result, develop slowly.
On White Collar, a strong bond between Neal and Peter already exists. Peter and Neal spent years playing a game of cat and mouse and even Neal’s incarceration didn’t stop them from keeping tabs on each other – or Neal sending birthday cards. (At some point I would adore a flashback episode in which we see just exactly how Peter succeeded in arresting and convicting Neal.)
And there’s mutual admiration. Neal may be a criminal, but Peter admires his intelligence, even his ability to pull off the cons and to stay one step ahead of Peter for so long. In turn, Neal admires Peter for being the man smart enough to catch him.
Before the series premiered, I expected the premise to be Peter saddled with Neal or Peter begrudgingly accepting Neal’s assistance for the greater good. Then, over the course of the first season, we’d see the two become friends and slowly become part of each other’s lives. I never expected the two to be BFFs from pretty much day one.
But it’s not just the premise that managed to surprise me. Peter isn’t the stereotypical, buy the book FBI agent. He’s shown a surprising willingness to bend the rules and to allow Neal to take detours in the investigation he can’t. After being taken off the case in ‘Book of Hours’, Peter tells Neal, “I can’t do much of anything”, then proceeds to loan his FBI jacket to Neal, knowing Neal will find a way to get what they need.
Which brings us to Mozzie, Neal’s go to guy and another individual quickly brought into Peter’s extended investigative family. I am looking forward to the backstory as to why Mozzie is so willing to drop everything to come to Neal’s aid, especially when there is seemingly no payoff in it for him. Perhaps he just enjoys the challenges. And while Neal hasn’t hesitated to enlist Mozzie’s help, he failed to anticipate the impact of his two worlds colliding. I loved the expression on Neal’s face in ‘Flip of the Coin’ when Peter decided to drop all pretense and invite “Mr. Haversham” in for a drink.
It only took four episodes to blur the line between Peter’s life and Neal’s life. It’s their life. I don’t mean that in the slashy sense (though, again, I can see that), rather any barriers the other may have had, perhaps even should have, they’ve chosen to let fall. Neal may initially have invited himself to Peter’s home and, later, brought Elizabeth into a case, but it didn’t take long for Peter to have Neal over for lunch. Or go out with Neal for drinks. Or feel at ease to just drop by Neal’s place unannounced. .
There’s also something fascinating about Neal’s earnestness in wanting to solve a case and to be part of the team. Neal Caffrey is not a bad guy. All indications are he never bilked families out of their college funds or retirement plans, but targeted people with too much money and too little sense. And while he certainly enjoys the finer things in life, it’s challenges and successes that get him through the day. He’s a little like House, only he chooses to see the sunny side of life.
Once Neal agrees to assist the FBI, he’s all in. I love how quickly Neal went from the singular to the plural. When he talks with Peter it’s “we” and “us”. “We’re off the case.” “Where does that leave us?” And when Peter asks Neal to retrieve a file, Neal points out “We have clerks for that.” There’s a bit of elitism there, he shouldn’t have to be bothered with menial tasks, but there’s also the chain of command and, to his mind, he’s Peter’s partner and whoever is there to assist Peter is also there to assist him.
Even when Neal and Peter aren’t working together, they’re still working together. The scenes at the news network in ‘Flip of the Coin’ were beautifully staged. Neal may have thrown Peter off his game by following the reporter, but Peter knew exactly how to rebound, giving Neal the opportunity to do what he needed to do and what Peter couldn’t do – break into her desk. (And because the show excels at getting the small details right, I have to give the writers a shout out for Neal having to get someone to key in an employee code to use the copier. While it was yet another example of Neal’s awareness of how big an asset his looks are, it also showed the writers care enough about the world they are creating to demonstrate how a large office really works.)
As for Elizabeth, ideally I would like to see her character developed further. However, for a series developed by a guy and focusing on two guys, well, I was worried before the premiere. Would Elizabeth merely be in the background, relegated to being the supportive wife who waits for Peter to get home so she can listen to him vent about his case or Neal? There is a bit of that, which is to be expected, but making Elizabeth a party planner was a fabulous move. She’s already been directly involved in one case, and her line of work means she knows people, has connections and that can (and likely will) prove useful.
She’s also there when Peter’s faith in Neal wavers. I believe Peter trusts Neal, at least when it comes to working a case. But Peter knows Neal loves Kate. She is Neal’s driving motivation for everything he’s done since his escape. And she’s the one thing that could make Neal run.
One of my favorite scenes in ‘Flip of a Coin’ is when Peter passes along the wire transfer information to Neal and Neal jokes about being a prisoner a short time ago and now being entrusted with $250,000 dollars in tax payer money:
Neal: “I guess that shows how much confidence they have in you.”
Peter: “And how much I have in you.”
Neal is unaware it’s a dummy account. He’s unaware Peter still has doubts about him since Neal’s first instinct is not to do the right thing. So Neal takes the words at face value and is visibly surprised by the sentiment. Neal may be making the best of bad situation for himself, but he also seems to have a genuine desire to justify Peter’s support and not ruin his reputation within the FBI.
In a recent LA Times article, Tim Dekay said this of the relationship between Peter and Neal:
Neal's budding bromance with Peter has been singled out by critics as the top draw of the series. It's a chemistry that has existed since their first screen test together, and the two actors say it's only deepening.
"Within seconds of our reading together, I knew this could be a blast," DeKay said. "I do think the show lives in that space between Peter and Neal and that energy that's between us was prevalent during the audition. It's interesting because when I read this script, I didn't even think of it as a cop show. Yeah, I realize Peter has a badge, but I looked at it as a relationship show."
It’s hardly a surprise that fandom has dropped the “b” and embraced the romance. There’s a lot of Neal/Peter fic out there. And, for me, this is a rare occasion where I don’t have to squint to see it. (Though, as I stated before, I’m in this for the friendship.) There are subtle things on the show, like the ease in which the two inhabit each other’s personal space and frequent pats on the shoulder, that could easily enough motivate the fic writers. But there are other moments that make one wonder if the writers are intentionally playing up something more?
“Your FBI friend keeps you on a tight leash.”
“What are you thinking?” As the camera shifts from a close up of Peter to a close up of Neal and the two seemingly staring into each other’s eyes.
“I got something better, I got you.”
I could go on.
It’s not just Neal and Peter that are a hit in fanfic. Neal/Peter/Elizabeth is equally popular. I must admit, they are my first OT3. I don’t necessarily have to envision them together together, but I definitely enjoy the dynamic. Without a doubt, Elizabeth loves her husband. But she’s not dead or blind. She sees in Neal what every other woman sees. I loved this exchange in ‘Book of Hours’:
Elizabeth to Neal: “Why don’t you just ask her out.”
Peter to Neal: “You think she’ll say yes?”
And it ends with her giving Peter the “What?” look.
One final thought because I want to put this to bed so I can get to bed. In the same article I linked above, there’s an interesting revelation by Jeff Eastin regarding the introduction of Kate and how it provided Neal with depth we would possibly not have otherwise had:
At the time he was penning his pilot about FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and convicted con artist Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) who become an unlikely crime-fighting duo, Eastin and his wife had separated. In the traumatic wake of his personal life, Eastin soon felt that resident dreamboat Caffrey was a little too perfect. So, in a move that transformed the cunning criminal into a romantic hero, Eastin decided that Caffrey's girlfriend would leave him just months before his prison sentence was set to expire.
At this point, I don’t care about Kate or her fate, but I do appreciate she provides Neal with a two fold motivation for his actions - to get out of prison to find her and fulfill all the promises he made to her and to stay out of prison in order to achieve his not entirely selfish goals.