The perfect template for a lighthearted police procedural has emerged. The main character is a charming, quirkily talented, roguish outsider (with a dark past!) who acquired his job in a highly improbable manner. He plays by his own rules – not in a Michael Chiklis, beat-a-guy-with-a-chain sort of way, but instead in a cheerful-disregard-for-warrant-law way. His partner is a tough, by-the-books cop (usually a woman, but not always) who constantly professes exasperation with him and his techniques but who, in conversation with her superiors, will always grudgingly vouch for his results. Both are significantly hotter than any cop you’ve ever seen.
This genre probably started with Remington Steele (or before, but that’s the oldest example I can think of), but today it’s exemplified by shows like Castle, The Mentalist, Life, and Numb3rs; the same dynamic is at play, with different details, in Psych, Monk, and even The Closer and Bones. What these shows also have in common is that I love them all unabashedly and, to some extent, interchangeably – the agencies and cities change, but that snappy dynamic stays the same.
So my newest discovery (thanks to Ryan) is White Collar, which follows the formula to the letter. Heartthrob Matt Bomer plays Neal Caffrey, a very stylish con-man who strikes a deal with gruff FBI Agent Peter Burke (played by Tim DeKay) that lets Caffrey out of jail if he helps the FBI catch forgers. The series is only three episodes in, so it remains to be seen whether it can maintain its quality, but so far it’s hitting all the right notes: the crimes are interesting, the backstory is unfolding nicely, and – most importantly – the leads are engaging. Bomer isn’t the most charming or talented actor to take on this archetype – Nathan Fillion and Damian Lewis hold those awards, respectively – but his rapport with DeKay is perfect. It helps, too, that White Collar isn’t about violent crime – there are really only so many ways for murder to go down, and too many procedurals get stuck trying to think of more inventive crime scenes.