White Collar’s Problems with Class (and Beyond)
July 25th, 2012
White Collar is a show about the elite chasing down the elite. While representing the government, the white collar bureau of the FBI is hardly recognizable as even middle class given that our vantage points are the well-off Peter Burke and the globe-trotting criminal Neal Caffrey. Meanwhile, the people they track down are often business men or men of power, people who have private security firms and operate in high-rises as opposed to slums, meaning its New York City setting is pretty well limited to the most affluent of the boroughs.
However, this only makes the show as classist as most television programming, which tends to focus on the wealthy and well-off as opposed to those of a lower class. USA’s lineup is filled with other examples, whether it’s Royal Pains (where Hank, despite struggling financially to begin the show, is placed in the lifestyle of the wealthy Hamptonites to quickly erase his relative poverty), or Covert Affairs (where Annie lives in her sister’s guest house), or Burn Notice (where Michael, despite having no money to his name, transforms his warehouse-living existence into a sign of humility as opposed to destitution), or Necessary Roughness (where “money problems” mean the slow erosion of college funds by a frivolous ex-husband while continuing to work as a high-paying therapist to wealthy clients), or…well, you get the picture.
However, we’re conditioned to accept the inherent classism of television content, so it’s unlikely these shows resonate as particularly offensive. The past few weeks of White Collar, however, have more directly addressed or failed to address the lower class in their storytelling, and I’ve come to the point where I felt the need to comment on it. Since my off-handed Twitter remark picked up some response, I wanted to expand on it briefly to explain where the show has gone wrong in its evocation of the lower class at the start of its fourth season, and why the show’s “elite” DNA is more capable of addressing issues of class than its execution would suggest.
Cultural Checkup: Suits and White Collar
August 12th, 2011
Although I’ve stopped watching Burn Notice, and ceased my bizarre commitment to the dull Royal Pains this summer, and didn’t bother with Covert Affairs’ second season, and didn’t even bother with Necessary Roughness (which I thought looked terrible), I remain really quite interested with USA as a network. With White Collar, they have a show that I think hits a lot of interesting buttons, and with Suits you have a show that seems to be aiming for the same goal. They’re shows that I like a great deal in particular moments, and that are in two very different stages of development.
However, as I drop in on both shows this week, I’ll admit that I find them a bit frustrating. While Suits has a lot of potential, its youthfulness shows signs of uncertainty in regards to questions of genre and narrative, problems that White Collar continues to carry even as it clearly leads the network’s offerings in terms of quality. I know that the general approach to USA programming is not quite this hyper-critical, but I’ve stored up a few too many things to say about the two shows, so I figured the Cultural Checkup was a good way to get through them.
“Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”
April 15th, 2011
“I can see it in your eyes – it’s not you.”
Well, that was quite the experiment.
Part of what has made the third season of Fringe so compelling is the degree to which the other universe has been fully realized. It is a place we can journey to, a place with a heartbeat and which moves us beyond the imaginary. Olivia being trapped in that world wasn’t a problem that needed to be solved, it was a situation that begged to be explored. It was an instance of science fiction storytelling that had room to breathe, that could be revealed gradually rather than being defined immediately.
By comparison, the Inception-esque journey that Walter, Peter and William Bell’s consciousness take into Olivia’s mind is pure imaginary. While I do not want to discount the value of the imaginary, and would applaud the show for testing the boundaries of its visual storytelling with its use of animation, the fact remains that “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide” just absolutely failed to resonate for me. As the episode came to its emotional conclusion, I felt one level removed from the action, and I don’t think it was simply because of the fact that the characters in question were cel-shaded.
February 25th, 2011
Why do we watch Fringe?
This is an honest question, and one that I think Fringe has been forcing viewers to ask for a few episodes now. This is not a question of quality: I think we’ve long ago established that Fringe is a quality television program, and although I think there have been some weak spots as of late the show has been unquestionably solid all season.
Rather, this is a question of connection: when we watch the show, what is it which most draws us in? On some level, this is tested in episodes like “Immortality,” as our interest in the other side is tested by an episode which takes place almost exclusively in that environment. Personally, I quite enjoy the alternate universe, and while I have my concerns about how the show will stick the landing in regards to the pregnancy I thought the time spent with Fauxlivia and friends was well spent.
More generally, though, the central relationship between Peter and Olivia has been front and center, driving the storylines in both universes and, in “Subject 13,” in multiple time periods. And while I think that Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson have done some tremendous work, and I would say that the relationship has been a dramatically compelling addition to the series, I will admit that I am not all that emotionally connected to it. And so when episodes like “6B” draw some pretty heavy-handed parallels between their relationship and the story of the week, it’s a test: is the somewhat tired plot structure overcome if we’re attached to the fate of Peter and Olivia’s relationship?
Ultimately, I thought “6B” was fine, but “Subject 13″ raises a whole host of other questions. There is some tremendous acting in this episode, but I have to ask: what was the point, exactly? What we learn about the past is hardly news, mostly filling in blanks which we had already filled in ourselves, and so it raises the question of why this (extremely compelling) flashback was interjected into the narrative at this point in time.
And it offers an answer that, frankly, tests my patience with whatever portmanteau the internet has given Peter and Olivia.
January 31st, 2010
Last week, I stressed the need for there to be something approaching textual analysis of the U.S. Skins, given that the hype has threatened to overwhelm the show itself. However, that made a lot of sense for “Tea” – that episode, caught up in questions of how the show was being adapted for American audiences, highlighted intriguing intertextuality between the two series. When it comes to “Chris,” though, I can’t help but struggle to find anything substantial to say: it’s a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the original episode, to the point where analyzing it at length feels redundant considering my familiarity with the UK series.
What I will say is that while “Chris” is far from perfect, suffering in much the same way as the rest of the series when direct comparisons to the UK series are made, it still works. It still serves that function of taking a character who had little nuance and giving them nuance, still convinces us that this is a show driven by character despite the sense that it has been defined by controversy. The show is starting with a handicap, but it can honestly only get better from here.
Although, there were a few changes along the way which gave me pause.
October 26th, 2010
That’s more like it.
Thus far, I’ve been disappointed in the quality of The Good Wife’s second season, if not disappointed in the season as a whole. There has yet to be an episode which really lived up to the potential of the first season when it comes to its legal procedural elements: the show’s serialized elements have remained present, but the series was at its most effective when the legal story was novel or particularly well organized (I’d argue “Heart” was the season highlight).
For me, “VIP Treatment” is the best episode of the season and certainly a standout in the series as a whole primarily because it is driven by a legal case as opposed to ongoing character interaction. Like last week’s episode, it features some work regarding Peter’s campaign, the love triangle, and Kalinda and Blake’s feud of sorts, but it’s all done in service to the standalone story. It’s an episode which makes its standalone storyline feel like something much more substanthe episode worked really welltial, and which embraces the show’s uniquely well-drawn workplace environment to tell a small story with potentially huge ramifications.
September 28th, 2010
I will admit to loving a good ironic title, and I’d argue that “Taking Control” somewhat misrepresents the state of The Good Wife heading into its second season.
I’ve seen a lot of divergent thoughts on the premiere: some seems to think the show is still in fine form, while others felt that it was “off” in some way. I’ll admit to being slightly in the second camp, albeit with a better sense of how, and more importantly why, the show feels this way. While I do think there are a few creative missteps here, I think the general function of the premiere was a good way to enter into the season (if not necessarily conducive to a particularly strong premiere).
September 23rd, 2010
Earlier this year, I wrote about what I called “procedural pacing,” wherein FX’s Justified gradually became more serialized throughout its first season: by starting with a more procedural format, and then having that format be interrupted and taken over by a serialized story line as the season wore on, the show established and then shattered its status quo. As a result, when the story eventually turned over in its entirety to Raylon Givens’ battle against the Crowder family, it felt “earned”: instead of seeming like an attempt to create false stakes, we had seen every step in this process, allowing the storyline to feel wholly organic and, more importantly, wholly satisfying.
I don’t think I entirely realized this before, but Fringe very much follows the same principle. It could have, at any point in its first two seasons, indulged in its science fiction premise to the degree we see in “Olivia”: we’ve known about the alternate universe since the first season finale, after all, so what was stopping them from introducing Fauxlivia at that point in the story? Fringe has had the potential for a serialized science fiction series since its pilot, and many have often criticized the series for not doing episodes like “Olivia,” a rollicking yet thought-provoking premiere, more often.
And yet, “Olivia” works as well as it does precisely because it is disrupting a status quo the series has established quite well over the past few seasons; much as Justified’s serialized elements had greater meaning due to the nuanced buildup, the slow development of the alternate universe and its role within this larger story has allowed the various dualities and conflicts the series is creating to have meaning which would have been lost had it been introduced at an earlier date.
July 13th, 2010
I would posit that it is impossible to truly suffer from White Collar withdrawal – while I will not begrudge those who love the series more than I, I don’t think that the show is substantial enough for its overall package to be considered something to which one could become addicted and suffer from symptoms of televisual withdrawl (I am, however, aware that “Matt Bomer withdrawal” is likely a fairly common condition).
However, “Withdrawal” focuses on the parts of the show which I think have it on the verge of becoming an addictive substance, albeit more for those who have a particular appetite for this sort of procedural fare. The series still struggles to pull together its serialized storylines, as the premiere would have been better off without the tease at episode’s end which throw numerous character relationships into peril, but the central case and the way in which it was solved had enough charm to make the episode feel like a more welcome return than I had imagined.
I may not be jumping for joy that it has returned to my television specifically, but I’m pleased that it has returned in a form which makes for some nice summer escapism which is starting to build enough of a history to become something more.