October 18, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “White Collar”


WHITE COLLAR:  Thursday 9PM on USA

Season 5 of WHITE COLLAR couldn’t be in more of a rush to get the hell away from its Season 4 cliffhanger.  When we left intrepid FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), he was in prison for killing a US Senator, a crime actually committed by the father of con man/forger/FBI consultant/ambiguous hero Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer).  Neal’s dad disappeared, leaving a gun with Peter’s fingerprints on it and gunshot residue on Peter’s hand.  White Collar might have been expected to need a couple of episodes to extricate Peter from this much trouble, but no–he was free, not just on bail but for good, by the premiere’s second commercial break.

The season premiere script by series creator Jeff Eastin and Co-Executive Producer Joe Henderson was even more contrived than usual in making this happen–something about Neal being able to imitate his father’s voice so well in a fake taped confession that, with the help of Mozzie’s (Willie Garson) tinkering, it could pass voice print identification tests and result in Neal being instantly freed.  But whatever, it had to be done–the show doesn’t really work with Peter in jail.  Peter’s release propelled the story into what appears to be the main narrative for the new season, at least in its early stages, and it’s one that goes all the way back to the beginning of the series.  Neal was only able to engineer Peter’s return to freedom with the help of the Dutchman (Mark Sheppard), the original forger and killer Peter and Neal joined forces to trap four seasons ago.  The Dutchman, still in jail but restoring art on work-release, now claimed to have a federal prosecutor in his pocket, needing only Neal’s theft of some gold coins to issue a bribe, but really he forced Neal to rob the coins so that he could get the robbery on film and use it to blackmail Neal into his illicit service.

Also providing some tension for the season:  Peter, somewhat insanely, left federal prison only to be immediately offered a promotion by the FBI to head New York’s white collar crime unit, one that could lead to an even bigger job in DC.  This will mean a new and as-yet undisclosed handler for Neal, and not one of his white collar unit buddies Diana (Marsha Thomason) or Jones (Sharif Atkins).  (The show has also incorporated Thomason’s real-life pregnancy into one for Diana.)

White Collar has always been a mix of smart (Peter quickly realizes something is fishy when Mozzie figures out how to dupe the signal on Neal’s ankle bracelet) and silly (Mozzie’s would-be suicide distraction that allows Neal to rob the gold).  The spark that makes the show work is the interplay between Peter and Neal (and between DeKay and Bomer), and one hopes the writers learned something from last season, which got bogged down in Neal’s daddy issues.  The cons-of-the-week are OK, if increasingly repetitious (and was it just me, or when Matt Bomer had to impersonate a fireman to rob the gold coins, did it seem for a minute like a set-up for a scene from his role in Magic Mike?), and Garson and Tiffani Thiessen provide charming support as the two leads’ respective better halves, but ultimately the show is about the agent’s and the crook’s mutual guarded affection and respect, and their fluctuating amount of trust in one another.

White Collar is an aging show, and not the hit it used to be, returning last night more or less where it left off last March, with a 0.6 rating in 18-49s and 2.5M total viewers.  That’s way down from the 1.1 rating and 4M viewers it had two seasons ago, and it would probably be wise for USA to start planning the series endgame.  It’s a classy entertainment with chemistry that’s always worked, and deserves a proper send-off before it sinks into the routine.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."