USA Networks always seems to find good specs with an element of humor. “Burn Notice” works on the elements of opposites but allows for enough humor to buoy itself quite tremendously. While I have not yet seen “Royal Pains”, its brotherhood aspects set against more interesting predictiments seems to indicate a similar perception. The thing is that opposites can always bring out the humor and drama in the other, despite any long ranging belief issues.
“White Collar” is not so different from its predecessors although its gestation and throughline seems to be a tad more conventional than the others. But what USA’s story department is good at is finding a simple premise that can be written to from many different angles but with multi-pronged characters that can be seen from many different emotional perceptions. “White Collar”, in that way, is quite succinct and effective.
The plot, as seen in the advance pilot, which is still “rough” has a convicted counterfeiter and fraud based criminal (who also happens to be young and dashing) breaking out of prison three months before the end of his sentence. His reasoning turns out to be more than human. He is brought back in by the FBI agent who caught him after a multi-year chase who is now working on a case he is having problems solving. The criminal proposes a deal where he can help the agent track down this man: “The Dutchman” who has been eluding him. The exchange: only if he gets him out to work alongside him. There is a legal loophole that allows this. This is the one flimsy element of the set up that seems a little too narratively convenient.
Now, realistically, the plot progression is pure and simple “Catch Me If You Can” but the difference is that there is a whole other story after Frank (in that film) gets caught which is never explored. But that film as well as something like the epilogue of “American Gangster” cannot function in that world because of its narrative progression…but this kind of series can. This is why it can be effective in the long run if the plot remains grounded.
The two lead actors also create a sense of comradarie and likability despite where they both came from. The one thing made clear is that the FBI agent respects the criminal’s intelligence almost as much as his wife’s (who is played with remarkable restraint by Tiffani Thiessen).
Granted the crux will be the balance of procedural elements of each case versus a basic overarching mythology. The criminal wants something but the key is how long can that be maintained and also, is there a bigger mystery lying underneath (at least enough to create some drama and last a couple seasons)? One can see the superstructure from this one episode. If it is that clear, even from the pilot, it is not a bad thing. It is good TV. Now we just have to see where it goes.
Out of 5, I give this advance look at “White Collar” a 3 for its essence of effectiveness. However, the ensuing drama will have to up the ante to match its wit.