Source: CliqueClack TV
Date: October 19, 2009

Recently, USA gave me the opportunity to go to New York and do a set visit for their upcoming series, White Collar. Along with a dozen other writers, I was crammed inside of a conference room in a Catholic elementary school, of all places, where we met with the stars of the show (Aryeh’s posted a preview of White Collar not long ago). We were able to do interviews with Matthew Bomer (Neal Caffrey), Tim DeKay (Peter Burke), Willie Garson (Mozzie) and Tiffani Thiessen (Elizabeth Burke).

White Collar is a show that’s heavy on the cool. Main character Neal Caffrey can put on a fedora with such flair that it looks as though he was either born knowing how to do it, or he spent a month in front of a mirror just practicing. But that’s what’s interesting about Caffrey: You never know which one it is. Even when he has escaped prison and is completely on the run, he looks like any other privileged New Yorker out for a weekend adventure. Although, the truth is, Caffrey grew up with nothing and spent his entire life working on making it seem like he has everything.

With a title like White Collar, and an ad that features a well-dressed man in handcuffs, I thought this was going to be about some rich dude on Wall Street fleecing investors, and Matt Bomer apparently felt the same way, “Immediately I thought, once we got picked up, I was, like, all right, when’s the Bernie Madoff coming in,” Bomer says of his show’s connection to the world of white-collar crime, “But, what makes Jeff [Eastin, the creator] such a great writer is he completely went the opposite way, into more interesting things in that world that we don’t know about.”

Caffrey’s crimes are more one-on-one, rather than stealing millions of dollars from investors. While a guy on Wall Street may be trying to either keep or grow his wealth, Bomer sees Caffrey as a man who started from nothing. “He’s probably somebody who, from a very early age, had to find out a way to get himself to school and probably first learned how to lie to people as a kid, to get his bus fare, and it only grew from there.” However, he doesn’t see Caffrey as a grifter: “I don’t like to think of [his profession] as a con artist; I think of it as a social engineer.”

Tim DeKay plays Peter Burke, the FBI agent who has been chasing Caffrey for over four years, and has arrested him twice. By the end of the pilot, the former nemeses are working together to bring down more white-collar criminals. Burke and Caffrey immediately go from enemies to, if not friends, then easy partners. It all happens so suddenly that it’s nearly jarring. I asked DeKay why Burke decided to team up with Caffrey and (mostly) trust him so quickly. “I think he agreed because we only had that prison location for two days,” DeKay said, laughing.

In actuality, DeKay thinks that Caffrey and Burke are a lot alike, both being intelligent men who had to work their way up, albeit on opposite sides of the law, “I think that Peter came from a very working class background, but was incredibly smart. I say that Peter and Neal both scored exceedingly high on their SATs.”

That’s not to say their divergent paths don’t cause some tensions between the unlikely partners. Burke resents Caffrey for not having to put in any honest work for anything he has, while Caffrey resents Burke for, you know, putting him in prison. Bomer says, “The person who effectively ended, for now, his career as a social engineer, is also the person he really trusts more than anybody. And, I think that’s an interesting dynamic as well, because there’s the complication of he’s also the person who took something away from me.”

While Caffrey comes over to the good side rather quickly, that doesn’t mean that his old life completely disappears. His friend Mozzie (Willie Garson) is still around and helping Caffrey do shady things, only now it’s in service of the law. Garson describes Mozzie as “Huggy Bear; [he’s] Angel from Rockford Files. [He’s] that subversive guy in the background; the brains behind the brain.”

It may be weird to hear Mozzie described as “the brains behind the brain,” since, in the pilot, he’s pretty much the bumbling opposite of the smooth Caffrey. However, unlike Caffrey, Mozzie hasn’t spent the past four years in prison, so it would stand to reason that he’s doing something right. Whatever it is Mozzie actually brings to the table, Caffrey seems to need it. Garson says, “I will be lurking … I am more out in the field, so to speak. But, you know, there’s a lot of question of how much is the FBI aware of me. So it’s coming that eventually Peter’s going to have to eventually know who I am, and then can we use him, and what’s the legality of … how much can the FBI actually use me to do anything.”

One of my favorite things about what I’ve seen of White Collar so far, other than the comedy elements that come from Mozzie, is how they’ve worked in Agent Burke’s wife, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen). She’s attractive and closer to Caffrey’s age than her husband’s, and Caffrey has made a career out of being ridiculously hot and charming. However, White Collar doesn’t go to the place that 99% of other shows would: all of the stars confirmed that there is never going to be a love triangle between these characters.

So when Burke comes home in the pilot to find Caffrey sitting on the couch with his wife, it’s not because anything untoward is happening. As Bomer explains it, “I envy and find fascinating his domestic family life. I’m fascinated by what it’s like to have a real family and a life where you can just settle down and you have breakfast together in the morning and all this. Because I don’t think I ever understood those kinds of things.”

Thiessen is also happy she isn’t going to have to go down the “bad girl” road again, like she did on 90210, saying, “You’ve seen it so many times. You’ve seen it over and over, and I’ve played it over and over. So, yeah, I’m glad too. Believe me, I’m glad.” Thiessen is so committed to keeping her TV marriage intact instead of going down the tired road of falling for the bad boy, that she goes so far as to promise nothing inappropriate will happen between Elizabeth and Caffrey, “I promise you it’s something I will fight for always. I mean, not that marriages don’t argue and have issues, but it’s a good solid marriage, which I like.”

Even though we’ve seen similarly-movies, such as Catch Me if You Can and The Thomas Crown Affair, White Collar is unlike anything that’s currently on television. The fact that it’s not another medical or cop procedural is a big plus on its side, but Willie Garson really hit on what makes this show so interesting: “Look, I’m from New Jersey. I come from working people … this is such a good show for this time, as we’ve certainly seen a lot of really hard-working people lose their livelihood. I’m fascinated by people who will just come up with more and more ways to screw people out of money, instead of just getting a job.”

White Collar makes its debut on USA Network this Friday, October 23 at 10 PM Eastern.