Based on the fact that USA Network’s only really breakout hit, Monk (seven years ago now), was a detective show, they are somewhat apprehensive about branching out into new creative territories. Characters are indeed welcome if they happen to be middle aged men (preferably white) who have eccentricities that help them with their profession and also happen to create a fun viewing experience.
The latest effort at a sustainable clone being rolled out is White Collar, a slightly more cosmopolitan entry for them, which, when stripped to its essentials follows along the lines of Catch Me if You Can reformatted as a police procedural. Holding court is one Matt Bomer, a relative unknown, as Neal Caffrey. USA would have you believe that this “character” is worth your time because he is an art thief (sexy) who lands a get out of jail free card because he agrees to use his brilliant mind to help the FBI stop other con artists (presumably one per week). Oh, and as an added flourish they have added some baggage in the form of a lost love he is obsessed with finding.
The longevity of the show will hinge upon whether or not audiences take to Bomer as a leading man. Not only does he have OC ready good looks and a natural charm but also he appears to be more than competent in holding down a large role. He's also paired with Tim DeKay as Peter Burke, the FBI agent who was responsible for sending him to jail now playing the role of his partner. Burke comes off as a royal bore, a man with a decent looking wife and a respectable job but whose personality has all the excitement one would expect to find in a government bureaucrat. About the only thing he's good at, at least in the pilot, is threatening to throw Caffrey back in the clink every time he steps out of bounds. It goes without saying that the straight-laced do-gooder has been used for generations to enhance the appeal of the suave bad boy, and White Collar employs that strategy to near perfection.
The show kicks off its inaugural season with a typical yet intriguing headscratcher. A man carrying a boatload of worthless Snow White books is pulled off a plane and questioned because his cargo sent up a few red flags. After his supposed lawyer comes to retrieve him from custody he is found dead in the interrogation room with a syringe sticking out of his neck. As Caffrey and Burke work their way through the case the mood of the show is kept light and jazzy invoking cop shows from the 70's. A lot of time is spent on where Caffrey is going to live. After he is first released from jail the feds set him up in a crusty flophouse, but seeing as how that lifestyle offends the average modern consumer Caffrey quickly schmoozes his way into a penthouse with a “$10 million view of Manhattan.” It must be nice to live in an alternate reality.
As a detective Burke seems rather useless and so the actual solving of the case falls to Caffrey. His ultimate solution to this problem is a repugnant bastardization of the justice system that only serves to remind the viewing public that the game will forever be rigged in favor of the Feds. Fans of modern TV will appreciate a few familiar faces from the recent past, namely Tiffani Thiessen (sans the “Amber” but plus a few pounds) and Willie Garson (forever gay thanks to Sex and the City). Chances are that this show will do nothing to overshadow their respective past glories, but it's still nice having them around. At the conclusion of the first episode, as per Caffrey's advice, Burke makes an honest effort to celebrate his wife's birthday by treating her to a romantic rooftop dinner. Her response of “It's cheesy, but it's sweet” is true enough for the gesture and for the show, but it would just be nice if eventually USA strived for something a little more.