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White Collar - Early Impressions of Season 2 and a Set Visit report

White Collar returns in just under two week to USA Network, and I couldn't be more excited. I recently got to visit the set, meet the cast and crew, and get a sneak peak of the first episodes of the coming season. If you haven't seen the show yet, now is the time to get caught up before the next season begins; if you've already been caught in the intrigue, it might be time for a refresher course.

Before I get into the show itself, let me give you some highlights from the set visit, and the impressions from the interviews. We got to question cast members Tim DeKay, Sharif Atkins, Matt Bomer, Marsha Thomason (who just joined the main cast) and Hilarie Burton (recurring guest) along with writer Matt Negrete and wardrobe coordinator Stephanie Maslansky. The interviews were great, and coming away from them you get the feeling that everyone that makes this show loves every minute of their jobs.

Some key points from the interviews:
Tim DeKay (Agent Peter Burke) - He compares the banter between Matt and himself to a good came of catch. They just pass 'the ball' back and forth between them. They've developed such a rapport in doing so, they sometimes correct the writers, telling them certain lines would sound better coming out of the other guy's mouth. How often do actors willingly give away line? He enjoys his relationship with his on-screen wife (Tiffani Thiessen) as they portray one of the healthier on-air relationships.

Matt Bomer (Neal Caffrey) - He developed a pet name for his anklet in season 1, and he called her Candy. In season 2, a sleeker model is introduced; feeling she might be German, he has taken to calling her Suzi (from Süßigkeiten (soo-zee-kite-en) the German for Candy.) He talks about having an advisor for him on hand, someone that was a con-artist (and from the crew stories of missing wallets, might still be somewhat active) and can help him with his techniques. He has new confidence in his pick-pocketing and lock picking skills. He mentions his own skill in art however, is severely lacking; anything he produced would look very Sesame Street.

Sharif Atkins (Agent Jones) Sharif comes from Chicago, so he's enjoying being in New York City. He said he's joked with Jeff (Eastin) about sending them to Harlem. "We're here in NY, don't under use me." The panel was all of the impression that he deserved more screen time, and he felt happy where he was, saying Jones is happy in the surveillance van, lending a hand. He also has begun envisioning his character as having a penchant for gambling. He tells a great anecdote about being recognized from his time on ER, and after being praised by this French fan and joking about how he signed the picture Eric La Salle.

Marsha Thomason (Agent Diana) After appearing in the pilot, but not in the second episode, there was some backlash from the gay community. She feels honored that they supported her character after only one episode. She honors them through the work by doing her best, letting the chips fall where they may. She expressed her sorrow in not being brought back for the finale season of LOST, but takes blame for that, as she was on a month long vacation in Thailand when they called for her. She would have loved to do it, even if was just for a brief cameo. Another regret she has was not participating in the dance scene in Black Knight; which Paula Abdul choreographed.

Hilarie Burton (Sarah Ellis) She feels like she is in fashion heaven, going from Hot Topic and Capezio to these high end labels. She feels very glamorous and calls the costume department her fashion godmother. She is hoping to talk to someone about having a few outfits as parting gifts. She talks about her character, who is an insurance adjuster on big ticket items. She basically does what Peter and Neal do, but she works for a private company and is better compensated. There is some history between her and both Neal and Peter. As she deals in white collar crimes, she'd have dealt with Peter as a partner and Neal as a suspect before, though how much of that comes up on screen is still in the works.

Matt Negrete (Writer) He says the writing process is very collaborative, and they all sort of work together in the writers' room. Episodes evolve from an idea, either for a specific heist, or something simpler than that. He gives the example of Free Fall from the first season, where Jeff had the idea of Neal jumping into a bakery awning, and they built the whole episode around that. Having Tom Barton, the FBI consultant and Simon Level, the con-sultant on hand are great resources. They'll draft a scene, and talk to one or the other of them and get notes as to how to make it feel more realistic. Besides helping them tighten up scenes, talking with them and hearing their stories from the real world helps the creative team take the story to new places.

Stephanie Maslansky (wardrobe) The fashion plays a big part in the show, almost taking on a character unto itself. She specifically talks about Mozzie and his scarves in the first season; it was like "here comes Mozzie and his scarf" for a while, and they evolved his wardrobe from there. She takes a lot of inspiration from The Rat Pack, dressing him in a lot of Sy Devore inspired looks. She gets a lot of inquiries about the clothes the characters wear. She says they come from Facebook, but more surprisingly, the crew also ask her about certain items the characters are wearing. She says if you can get the crew to notice, you are doing a good job.

After spending time with the cast and crew, we were given a tour of the sets used for the show. We got to wander around Peter and Elizabeth's apartment, Neal's apartment and the FBI offices. All the sets were well dressed, the books were real, and seemed to reflect the personalities of the character's that occupied the spaces. I was impressed with the details; even the areas that you don't see on camera were appointed with appropriate decoration. The computers in the FBI offices have little post-it notes on them with cute little reminders. My favorite: "To-Do: Fight Crime." It is evident in walking these sets that everything that could be done to make them feel lived in and real was done. That translates to the screen in every episode.

Season 2 starts off with a great episode, directed by, and guest-starring Tim Matheson. He also directed the series pilot of Covert Affairs. I'm not allowed to tell you too much about the episodes I've seen, but I can give you some tidbits to whet your whistles. The episode centers on bank heist that the FBI knows is coming in advance. Peter and Neal's banter is as enjoyable to watch as ever. Mozzie has some fun with Peter. Team members go and team members come. We get the first taste of the next chapter of the mythology, and it is surprising.

Tiffani Thiessen was not present at the interviews as her pregnancy was near the end of term. A few days later she welcomed her daughter Harper Renn Smith into the world. A hearty congratulations to Tiffani and her husband Brady Smith!

Click here for more info on White Collar, and check back next week for a primer to Season 1. Everything you need to know to start watching Season 2.