A changing demographic?

I’ve spent a couple posts now bemoaning the role of modern women on television: the naggers, the background eye candy, the emotional wrecks, etc.  It turns out I’ve been missing one show that has so far refused to put women in those roles: White Collar.

A career forger (Neil Caffrey, beautifully played by Matt Bomer) escapes prison only to be re-caught and put to the work for the FBI.  I know, you’ve already seen Catch Me If You Can.  In USA Network’s television series the characters are dashingly attractive, charming, intelligent, and obsessively well-tailored, think more Ocean’s 11.

There are a total of SIX women with reoccurring roles and not a single one has

Special Agent Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason)

failed to rise to the occasion on their own at some point in the two short seasons.  If you lost the sexual tension, any of these characters could be played by either sex and you’d seldom notice an issue (ok, Neil’s season one pursuit of his ex-girlfriend might be a bit progressive in this scenario).  An insurance adjuster tracks and out-wiles thieves, two FBI agents not only act with initiative but taunt Neil his captivity, a cat burglar/former fling plays to her own agenda and rarely offers selfless favors, a kindly older women reveals a past of dubious legality, and the loyal FBI agent’s wife pushes cases and spurs the leads to action.

If you’re familiar with USA, you’ll know the show follows an almost rigid pattern: the first and last few minutes focus on the season-arc while the middle 45 deal with some crisis-of-the-week.  Characters keep secrets and run hidden agendas, betrayal and trust drive stories.   You’ll also know the usual show has maybe 10 regular characters, so when I say that six (SIX!) are women in this cops-and-robbers genre, you can appreciate the heft.  And unlike, say, Burn Notice the strong female characters aren’t constantly over-compensated by being femme fatales with near-homicidal urges.

I’m not the first to theorize that cable feels more comfortable ignoring the ratings-driven stereotypes seen on the majors.  Personally, I think making every character independently strong has let the show move in directions most cop shows can’t: any two characters can have an issue without needing a lead to step in and keep the audience’s attention.  This helps keep a fresh edge despite the usual failings of successful shows (ever more complicated plots, ridiculous histories being drudged up, multiple lifetimes’ of experience and expertise despite youth).  Instead of a will-they/won’t-they Ross & Rachel dynamic, we’ve seen Neil struggle with conflicted attraction to multiple women as each relationship seems viable and realistic; and we’ve seen women walk away in pursuit of their own interests.  As shows that feel realistic tend to be more enjoyable and watched, I look forward to watching White Collar for quite a few more heists and capers.

Media type: Television
From: White Collar
Title: “Under the Radar”
Watch it at:http://www.hulu.com/embed/FOJPo1-FEvCvNYzk-Ke_Ig

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