Film scholar Robert Ray has written of the two classic archetypal American heroes, the official hero, the champion of the law, embodied here by Peter and the outlaw hero, like many a western hero, in this case Neal.  Using Casablanca's two male heroes as the culmination of these two types, Ray uses Paul Henried's Victor Lazlo, the white suited idealist crusader working with Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine, as the crafty and less-than-legal operator; both men come to respect each other and both are necessary to resist the forces of evil in their time. 

Following in this great narrative tradition, Neal knows deep down he need's Peter's friendship and Peter would like Neal to forswear the attractions of the dark side of the street and stay on the side of the angels.  In a rare unguarded moment, Neal tells Peter, "you're the only person I trust."  The writers have managed to keep the delicate balance by not hurrying Neal into a reformed life—he will not go quietly into the light. 

As performed by Matt Bomer, Neal seems all about appearances--he uses his brilliant blue eyes and broad smile to charm his way through life and into the pockets and safes of his law breaking marks.  But it's wrong to look at Bomer's performance as that of just another pretty boy. 

 

Con men must be able to smoothly distract and seduce their way past obstacles and its quite believable that Bomer's Neal Caffrey could do this.  Tim DeKay's Peter manages to be both alternately righteous and funny in his roles as Special Agent and befuddled husband.  The deft performances and chemistry between the two leading men grounds the show's appeal.  

But adding to the appeal of the entire cast is the location shooting in New York City.  I watched the first season on Blu-Ray discs and never has the oft-filmed metropolis looked more gorgeous.  The city should pay the show a stipend for promoting tourism.  This is a series that is best watched in high definition. 

As last week's third season premiere launched a new story arc, we will see Neal once more pulled between his old ways and his new friends.  Perhaps because its subject is white collar crime, there's not much violence and even less sex but lots of intrigue and suspense. Combining the best elements of caper movies and buddy shows, white collars and blue skies are always in season when they look this smart.  

*This article first published 6/17/2011

*Watch White Collar Tuesdays, 9 pm, on USA