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“White Collar” and the Wonders of Popcorn Television

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 15, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 15, 2011 |

Series creator Alan Ball has called “True Blood” “popcorn for smart people,” and he may be on to something. The campy vampire romp (with werewolves, fairies and witches thrown in) is entertaining, engaging and easier to digest than heavier cable dramas, and that’s OK. It’s fun, but it’s not nearly on the same level as throwaway fare such as most reality shows. Popcorn shows make up much of networks’ rosters; they’re the shows that can be endlessly watchable but are never glorified come awards season.

There are degrees of popcorn shows (I’d put “True Blood” toward the top of the heap), and I watch many of them, although why I stuck with ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” for five seasons is up for debate. I even watched The CW’s at-times grating “Life Unexpected” and its disappointing rush job of a finale once it got the ax. We need popcorn TV — think “Law & Order” reruns — to help us unwind, to give us a reason to laugh or cry without dumbing us down. And they need us, too, to keep safe from executives’ trigger fingers.

My favorite popcorn show may be USA’s “White Collar,” a generally breezy caper saga of a con man, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), in a type of work release agreement with the FBI agent, Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) who had put him in jail. Caffrey helps Burke solve various crimes in the FBI’s White-Collar Crime Division, from forgery to theft to whatever it is rich people get themselves into. Filmed almost entirely in warm months and in the cleanest and grandest locations in New York City, “White Collar” is great at escapism. It’s the New York you imagine it to be: No homeless people! Everyone is in a nice suit! It doesn’t smell like pee! Scene transitions are fast-forwarded shots of the city put to snappy music. And the show often unfolds in the patterns that made you enjoy Ocean’s 11 when you saw it in the theater. Caffrey employs his con-man skills to help him solve crimes, and the buddy cop pairing of him with Burke is one of the show’s better qualities. Both Bomer and DeKay have plenty of charm. Here’s a clip from last night’s episode two of Season Three, “Where There’s A Will.”

Come on, that’s just cute. Willie Garson provides plenty of comic relief as Caffrey’s co-conspirator, Mozzie, and this season he’s playing a bigger role in a recurring storyline involving Nazi plunder he tried to make the Feds think was lost in a fire. I’m not making that up. He stole it, and now he and Caffrey and trying to sell it off, although Burke is onto them. Caffrey and Burke have spent the past two seasons learning to trust each other, but now Caffrey could blow it all, and he knows it. Tiffani Thiessen also stars as Burke’s sweet and supportive wife, Elizabeth. She’s always there to listen, but thankfully, she’s not a doormat. The couple just seems happy, which is nice — pleasant.

“Pleasant” may be the best word to describe “White Collar.” It’s easy viewing and an easy way to kill an hour. Enough plot to keep your brain stimulated, but enough pop to still keep things simple. It’s fun. Just embrace it.

So, what are your favorite popcorn shows?

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

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