'White Collar' - 'Withdrawal': Tim Matheson, guest director, damn glad to meet you.
"White Collar" debuted its second season last night, and while that's a show that fell out of the blog rotation last summer and isn't likely to return this summer, I do have a few thoughts on the premiere, coming up just as soon as I use a voice scrambler...
In its first season, there were three basic elements to each episode of "White Collar": the interaction between Peter and Neal (and, once the producers remembered what they had on their hands with Willie Garson, between either of those two and Mozzie), the white collar cases Peter and Neal worked for the FBI, and the search for Kate. The problem was that while the first was splendid (and almost worth muddling through the other two), the cases tended to be dull and Kate was a complete dramatic sinkhole. She was someone we were expected to care about entirely because Neal did, and not because of anything inherent to the character herself. (If anything, things got worse once Kate began to appear late in the season, because the character/actress couldn't live up to the hype Neal had created for her.)
I give credit to Jeff Eastin and company for recognizing the Kate problem and blowing her up real good in the season one finale. Many is the showrunner who would stubbornly stick to the plan even when it so obviously wasn't working, but Eastin was apparently willing to change on the fly. (Unless, that is, Kate going boom was part of the plan all along.)
So now "White Collar" features three basic, slightly different elements: the interaction between Peter and Neal and Mozzie (now a bit darker in texture, since Neal is grieving Kate and the banter is a defense mechanism), the white collar cases, and the search for Kate's killer(s).
Tim DeKay and Matthew Bomer's chemistry isn't going away anytime soon, so their scenes are always going to work, and thanks to Tim Matheson's work in front of and behind the camera this week, the case was by far the most entertaining the show's done. (The key is that white collar crime probably isn't inherently interesting enough to drive stories on a TV drama, but when those crimes involve colorful characters like Matheson's, they can work.)
So that leaves the new (or redirected) story arc, and... I dunno. Because Marsha Thomason is a regular castmember now and is in position to interact so much with our two leads, it will be much easier to build her up as a person of interest than the show ever could with Kate. But that whole music box storyline still feels like an abstraction for now, and I wonder if maybe the show would have been better off just jumping ahead far enough into the future that Neal had accepted Kate's death so the writers could cut the cord and start over with something better.
Still, the leads are fun, and if they can get guest stars the caliber of Matheson every week, I can learn to ignore the arc stuff the same way I do for most USA shows.
What did everybody else think?