White Collar, or that time basic cable accidentally gave us a poly show about an art thief

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Peter, Elizabeth, and Neal. These three characters sit on couches together on the show often, and are never, actually this far apart. Ever. Just saying.

I’ve been watching White Collar again. I’ll confess this was a show I gave up on when it was first airing. My friends all said it was super poly, and it was… for a while. Then there was all this tacked on brokenhearted past stuff for one of the characters, and I felt like the show was working to become more normative after being markedly unusual. But some random cable channel has replaced my Sunday night Leverage marathons with Sunday night White Collar marathons, and I’ve remembered what I loved about the show.

For those not in the know, White Collar follows a semi-reformed art thief (Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey); the FBI guy he works for in order to stay out of jail (Tim Dekay as Peter Burke); and the FBI guy’s super competent, charming, and no-time-for-this-bullshit wife (Tiffani Theissen as Elizabeth Burke). There’s a weekly caper, a vague overarching mystery, and buckets — just buckets — of kitchen table poly vibes. Seriously, this is not a case of in a desperate search for representation and confronted with really hot actors, fans decided all these characters should get together. Kitchen table poly is the actual simplest explanation for tons of random things in this show, and I spend a lot of time wondering what on earth show the writers thought they were writing.

Which is why the show got me all cranky the first time around, when Neal suddenly grew a backstory about a broken heart and about as normative a quest for a Happily Ever After as an art thief can get. It felt like a show that reflected a broader perspective on relationships (Peter and Elizabeth don’t, for example, have children, do not address their lack of children, and are really into each other and having both a pet dog and a pet art thief) suddenly, desperately trying to become less weird. I was, frankly, sad.

But this time around I’m a lot less annoyed. Part of this is that I’m not surprised this go around. Some of this is age and a change of perspective — Neal can have a brokenhearted past, be in normative-looking relationships, and also be poly. Meanwhile, I can also overlook a range of narrative inconsistencies in a wacky caper show that’s under the delusion that New York City is rife with alleys. (It’s not, but the writing team was in LA while the show was shot in NYC, and they kept having to find that one NYC location with an alley to the ongoing amusement of the New York fans).

So, if you like poly content (and we hope you do, considering what we write), White Collar is very much worth your time. And while I had sort of forgotten that this show existed (and Erin didn’t even know what it was about), if you like Elizabeth Burke, you will definitely like Nerea in The Art of Three.

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