I haven’t written about White Collar since the season premiere. This is disappointing. But you know what else is disappointing this season of White Collar. Perhaps it’s just my personal taste, but I cannot get into this season’s overarching plot. After the season two finale and this season’s premiere, I voiced my concerns over the more antagonistic relationship between Neal and Peter and my opinion hasn’t changed whatsoever. I guess I see the value in spending all of season two building up a trust between them and then ripping it away. That makes the betrayal more influential, apparently.
But even though the episodes following the premiere have back off from the Neal v. Peter showdown just a bit, what’s left hasn’t been any better. Neal and Mozzie selling the art in secret is not particularly interesting to me. For as much as it seemed like the “Who killed Kate?” wasn’t going to work as a long-term storyline, what season three has had to offer is much less satisfying. No matter what it is, this feels like a series where the characters play off one another best when dealing with an outside threat instead of internal strife.
Moreover, the procedural elements of the series haven’t been that interesting either. I liked, but didn’t love the Da Vinci Code-esque plot in “Where There’s a Will” and last week felt like a complete bust, even with a nice focus on Diana. For whatever reason, it feels like the series has lost of sum of its storytelling momentum that it had in season two, especially the back half.
I hoped that perhaps last night’s episode, “The Dentist of Detroit,” would be the proverbial kick in the ass White Collar needs. Focusing on Mozzie has always been a beneficial move for the series and “Dentist” does a lovely job of exploring his origins through flashbacks including a hilariously awkward young buck trying to replicate the problems with Willie Garson’s eye-sight. It was fun to learn about where Mozzie came from and get a slightly better indication of why he is the way he is. The character work wasn’t necessary to appreciate Mozzie’s charms, but the more information, the better.
But as fun as the flashbacks were and as awesome is Willie Garson is in general, the present day narrative in “The Dentist of Detroit” is one convoluted, hackneyed mess. White Collar is not a complicated program, but 25 minutes into this episode I had to stop and look at the few notes I jotted down with the hopes of understanding what the heck was going on and who all these terrible villains were. The bad news is that I couldn’t really decipher much. Al Sapienza’s guesting performance was dreadfully hammy and over-the-top and by the time the case started to get good, the episode sidelines Mozzie in a hotel room so that he can torture an agent with sounds of the sea. I’m a smart guy. When I can figure out the purpose of your basic case of the week, there’s a problem and based on the other reviews I’m skimmed, I wasn’t alone. Geesh.
The one great moment of the episode saw Peter and Neal improvise an angry fight for the case, only the content of their conversation starts to sound eerily like they are airing out some laundry of their own. I know I said that I would prefer the two of them to be on the same side, but if the series can provide more scenes like this one, I can probably warm up to the antagonism. Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay are doing good work with what I would consider lesser material and I hope that the writers catch back up to their very wonderful lead performers.
I’m not giving up on White Collar. It’s my favorite of USA Network’s offerings and I thought it had turned a corner in season two to become something better than the cable channel’s typical lightweight fare. As of now, it seems like the series is taking the same tracjetory that Burn Notice did: Great season two, problematic season three. Fingers crossed that the slide doesn’t continue and the series figures out how to pull out of this slump.