“White Collar,” which debuts tomorrow (Oct. 23) on USA, has all the elements of detective dramadies – the mysteries, the interpersonal struggle between work and play, the occasional chase or scuffle and the handcuffs. But then, like “Lethal Weapon,” there’s the "bromance."
Thief, forgerer, counterfeiter, “social engineer” and charmer Neal Caffrey (Matthew Bomer) is released from jail by the FBI detective, Peter Stokes (Tim DeKay), who put him there – on the condition that the ex-convict helps him with his casework. Caffrey’s rule-bending and floating through life fluffs the feathers of Stokes and his hard-nosed, fact-based agency work, breeding a very particular working friendship.
“We both respect each other. There’s an odd respect that we both enjoy and we know that each other enjoys solving something… deep, deep, deep down inside, they like each other,” says DeKay, indeed, with his arm looped around the back of Bomers’ chair at a press gathering in New York. “I would even go further and say that really, the relationship between these two characters is really the center of the show. I think Peter is fundamentally one way and Neal is fundamentally one way... they’ll always have things that they clash on.”
It comes with the territory, too, that Neal is a con artist. "He lies with ease. He’s a social engineer, that’s his job," says Bomer.
In a way, "White Collar" feels like an epilogue to “Catch Me If You Can” – the memoir of real-life thief Frank Abagnale Jr. -- a tale that inspired the actors, along with “To Catch a Thief,” “Oceans 11” and Kevin Mitnick’s “The Art of Deception.” There’s even “a little bit of Ferris Bueller thrown in there,” says Bomer.
What is atypical about “White Collar,” though, is the lack of blood or graphic violence, which seems to work its way into primetime cop shows across the board. That’s in the nature of white collar crime, says DeKay, and even when murder or foul play occurs in the story, it’s acknowledged in context purposely, in a realistic way.
“If there is a murder, you will see it after the fact. You will not have seen it happen and you’ll never flashback to have seen it happen. And if there is blood, somebody on the show will not like it, will not like to see the blood,” says DeKay.
Seduction and romance is kept tame, too, and the show’s creators crafted a fairly normal and supportive marriage for Peter and his wife Elizabeth. That, too, is a relief to the show’s principals.
“It’s nice to see a relationship on TV that does work, and they’ve been together for a long time. A lot of times on TV, and even movies, you see these relationships that don’t work. It’s always about the ones that don’t work,” Theissen says. “I’ve been married almost four and a half years now. My husband is my best friend. And our characters, Elizabeth and Peter, I feel, are kind of the same way. He’s an FBI agent, and here I am doing high profile events... we couldn’t be more different. [But] you see the dynamics of how we really just care about each other.”
Caffrey is not without his sidekick, either. Willie Garson – who’s played a number of memorable TV characters from “Sex & The City” to “NYPD Blue” to “Pushing Daisies – plays an idiosyncratic underground Right Hand Man as Caffrey tries to gather details on his ex-girlfriend Kate, who has inexplicably disappeared.
“I was really drawn to kind of an under-the-radar kind of guy rather than an out-there kind of guy. And it also gives a lot of opportunities to play with me pretending to be other people and working scams behind the scenes rather than in front of the scenes,” Garson says. “I'm also a big fan of all those shows that I grew up on —it's Huggy Bear, it's Angel from ‘Rockford Files.’ It's that subversive guy in the background, the brains behind the brain. And that's very interesting to me.”