My perception of White Collar before seeing it was that it had the unenviable task of sometimes getting lost in the shadow of its more popular show Burn Notice. But while it may be easy to make the comparison (both have charismatic lead actors and capable supporting casts), the fact of the matter is that White Collar is staking its own claim and doing it rather well.
Created by Jeff Eastin, the show's premise is intriguing to say the least. Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer, Flightplan) is a young, well-dressed and charismatic entrepreneur of sorts. However his main skills are in high-end burglary and forgery. Caught by FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, Get Smart), he's given an interesting proposal; he would be allowed to stay out of prison, though monitored with an ankle bracelet and consult with the FBI on motives and skills used in White Collar crimes. At the end of the first season, he finds himself witness to the death of his girlfriend and, with the help of the Bureau and his trusted friend Mozzie (Willie Garson, Sex and the City 2), he hopes to try and find who did it, while helping Peter with other suspects in unrelated crimes.
There are a few pleasant surprises that one watches over the course of White Collar and its second season, but the biggest one about the show itself is Bomer's performance. It is part confidence, resolve and conflict. Considering his wardrobe, it is as if Caffrey could have been a direct relation to Thomas Crown, with lots of poise under pressure and sage wisdom from the other side of the law tracks. His determination to find the murderer of his girlfriend at points turns into blind yet justifiable rage, particularly when during an episode in the season he confronts who he believes is responsible for it, a disgraced former Agent played by Noah Emmerich (Pride and Glory). With all of that, it's the subtle conflict that he has about becoming legit which is the most intriguing thing the show pushes forward. Neil works well with the other agents in the office, particularly Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason, Las Vegas) and Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins, ER). He even gets along well with Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen, Saved By The Bell), Peter's wife and in a comedic twist late in the season, Peter and Neil 'switch' identities, allowing for Neil to be a little more settled.
The show's New York City location allows them to take advantage of a veteran talent pool. Combined with the contributions of the supporting cast and recurring cast (such as Emmerich), Tim Matheson (Animal House) and Richard Schiff (The West Wing) are among the recognizable faces that guest in the second season. Their contributions help raise the bar of believability to the stories. The only disappointing guest performance is sadly the one of the main antagonist, portrayed by Andrew McCarthy (Mannequin) who seems to want to do some Cary Grant impression, but it's both inconsistent and fails miserably. While his presence was welcome to help provide an origins episode to Caffrey's character (and the show to a larger extension), the accent becomes grating.
McCarthy's performance aside, White Collar is an entertaining show that is filled with solid contributions from both the main and supporting cast, and the stories are just as engaging, particularly when you deal with the formula the show presents. The standalone eps combined with the ones designed to advance the story and characters result in surprisingly good television. Now just starting its third season, I'd volunteer that when it comes to USA's summer schedule, White Collar is just as good as Burn Notice, but for different reasons.
The 16 episodes that comprise the second season of White Collar are all presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, consistent with their original broadcast format. The show looks very good, with flesh tones reproduced accurately and blacks looking solid without many image artifacts or compression. You can spot the seams between the shot footage against green screen, but they look free of edge enhancement and for that matter, the show lacks many post-production tweaks. All in all quality viewing material.
The show's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option for all of the episodes is a surprisingly powerful experience. There is lots of activity on the low-end for the subwoofer to get some work in, dialogue is consistent through the production and channel panning and directional effects are ample and convincing. It's much more immersive than I was expecting coming in, particularly as the show has more explosions and gunfire than one would assume. But overall, Fox does justice to White Collar.
The extras are peppered through all four discs and are a variety of things. Disc One has seven deleted scenes (8:23) that are forgettable, but the gag reel (5:07) is actually funny and worth watching an extra time or two. Disc Two has the creative team of both White Collar and Burn Notice roasting each other, Jeffrey Ross style. The former's roast (6:03) is a little more entertaining and drier than the latter's (5:36), but both are good and can also be found on the Burn Notice fourth season discs.
Disc Three has three extras: "Slick Willie" (5:14) is an appreciation of sorts for Garson and his character, along with his thoughts on the show. There are two commentaries on the disc, the first, for an episode titled "Point Break," includes Eastin, Bomer and DeKay and they toss out some possible Season Three details, along with their thoughts on working on a particular sequence. For the most part the material is generic and can be skipped. The second track (for the episode "Forging Bonds") is a lot more jocular, perhaps because Garson and Thiessen join in the fun, though Thiessen joins about 15 minutes into the commentary. There is more joking around from Garson and more trivia and detail in scenes is pointed out here as well, along with some hilarious jokes about the wigs Garson uses for this episode. This one is definitely more entertaining. Moving onto Disc Four, the commentary on the finale (named "Under the Radar") is the quietest track of the lot, primarily because the participants (the same group from "Forging Bonds") hadn't seen the episode at that point. There is some joking and production trivia, but it's mainly hearing them laugh and/or gasp at the appropriate moments. The other extra is "So Here's The Deal" (12:47), a production diary about how an episode is created from script to shooting, and covers working in New York and the production and location design and how this is approached. It's a fairly quick extra but most likely the best of the bunch.
Perhaps the biggest take away from the second season of White Collar is that you don't have to watch the first season to appreciate it, but the show's appeal and execution by the actors is such that you want to see it on your own regardless. Technically it's better than average and from a supplements perspective isn't shabby, and worth a rental for those looking for a slight change of pace in their summer entertainment.