EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Art Of The Steal: The EvidenceProf Blog Review Of The "White Collar" Pilot

Last Friday, USA aired the pilot of its new series "White Collar." The second episode airs tomorrow at 10/9c. If the pilot is a harbinger of things to come, this might be the rare show that I recommend that law students watch. Here is the EvidenceProf Blog review:  

In the early twentieth century, Upton Sinclair coined the phrase "white collar," and he exposed the New York City white collar criminal in "The Moneychangers," his fictionalized account of the Wall Street panic of 1907. The pilot episode of "White Collar" reveals why it is appropriate, especially in the post-Madoff milieu, that the USA Network show takes its name from the famed muckraker's musings.

The pilot opens by introducing us to the two principals. Matthew Bomer ("Chuck") is Neal Caffrey, a jack-of-all-cons, escaping from a supermax prison in a breezy manner that matches the tone of the network's latest entry in its "Characters Welcome" coterie. Tim McKay ("Carniv├ále") is FBI agent Peter Burke, the by-the-book G-man who put Caffrey behind bars but who has just had his latest search for another crack con -- the Dutchman -- (literally) blow up in his face.

Caffrey flew the coop four months early in an attempt to reconnect with former flame Kate, but his flight was two days late as all he finds is her deserted apartment and a reunitement with Burke and his jail cell. Facing another four years in the pokey, Caffrey makes a deal with Burke (relying upon "precedent" and "case law"): He'll trade his jail time for straight time and serve as the con man to Burke's straight man by using his skills to help Burke track down white collar criminals. And those skills are ample. The pilot sets up Caffrey as every bit as conversant in the confidence game as USA stablemate Michael Westen ("Burn Notice") is in the spy game. The catch? A GPS device cum plot device that will go off if Caffrey veers outside a two mile radius in Manhattan in an attempt to find Kate, a quest that sets itself up to be a season-long B-story like Westen's attempt to find out who "burned" him.

As with "Burn Notice," "White Collar" gains a great deal of credibility by doing location shooting, giving off a great NYC vibe. But, despite using Russell Lee Fine, a frequent DP for "The Wire," the show feels more like a slick Rat Pack era throwback than a gritty, urban drama, much like the BBC's flimflammy "Hustle." Indeed, the pilot has Caffrey charming his way out of a dingy hotel and into a palatial mansion (much like Hank Lawson in USA's "Royal Pains") by sharing an appreciation of Sy Devore suits with the mansion's widow. Caffrey later dons period garbs, and the show is leavened with 1960s era staples such as "Get Ready" (played during Caffrey's escape) and "The Good Life." You won't find any handheld shaky cam work in the show; it's all dolly shots, evoking shows from a bygone era such as "It Takes a Thief," which inspired this update of the cat(burglar) and mouse genre.

The show was also inspired by "Catch Me If You Can," in which Leonardo DiCaprio's Frank Abagnale, Jr. reveals that the one con that he didn't pull was passing the Louisiana bar exam; he simply studied really hard. The resolution of the pilot of "White Collar" similarly ends with Caffrey cracking a Criminal Procedure casebook and navigating his way around the pesky search warrant requirement, which leads to the grounding of the flying Dutchman and Burke giving a fairly accurate explanation of the doctrine of exigent circumstances (and the plain view doctrine). Series creator Jeff Eastin ("Hawaii") has enlisted the consulting services of Tom Barden, the head of the New York Field Office of the FBI's white collar crime division for fifteen years, and it seems to be paying early dividends with a show that appears that it will not invite the typical "spot the legal inaccuracies" skepticism.     



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