“Sometimes it’s good to be a little bad.”
A charming show that has us rooting for the con man, White Collar: The Complete Third Season comes out just in time for the Fourth Season premiere on USA Network. But for a series that relies on good character development, I was disappointed to find key moments happening in forced situations rather than occurring organically.
Season Three marks the return of Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer, Chuck), con artist turned confidential FBI informant. As usual, he’s teamed with Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay, Hot in Cleveland) who controls the ankle monitor which keeps Neal leashed. Together they attempt to outsmart New York City’s most clever criminals. Since we’re moving into spoiler territory, consider yourself warned.
There are a couple of things White Collar does really well. The first is the season-long story arc. Since its inception, this has been a show which sets up a mystery to be solved by the end of the season. Not only that, it also sets up the next season’s mystery, leaving us wondering “Where do they go from here?” This compact, tightly scripted series rewards its viewers with timely payoffs. And you certainly can’t argue with this cast. Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay play off each other so well, their chemistry is clearly the draw of the show.
That said, Season Three was a bit bumpy. The end of Neal and Sara’s (Hilarie Burton, One Tree Hill) relationship felt forced and very abrupt. Characters had to make big choices, like Peter deciding what he was going to say at Neal’s commutation hearing. But instead of organically occurring, nearly every major plot turn happened because a character was backed into a corner. Yes, one can argue they made their own choices, but under such pressure I was left wondering if the writers didn’t trust anything would happen outside of a “push comes to shove” situation.
The crux of the season was supposed to be Neal’s finding a family of sorts, compelling him to stay in New York. But with the conflicting notion that neither he nor Peter fully trust each another, it’s hard to buy Neal’s reluctance to leave the Big Apple behind. It’s easy to believe Neal is waiting but more difficult to buy his reason why. This gave the season a rather choppy feel and I was concerned the last episode might also be the series finale (at least for me). However, when all was said and done, I was surprised to find I’m still hooked. Though the season final still relied on “under pressure” decisions, I finally saw where the writers had been leading us.
The execution of the major plot points shows a lack of cohesion in both direction and writing, which at times left me shaking my head. However the acting continues to be in top form, especially Mozzie (Willie Garson, Sex and the City) and Elizabeth aka Mrs. Suit (Tiffani Thiessen, Saved by the Bell) who really came into their own to cement a fully fleshed out cast. If you watch for the characters, you will not be disappointed. If you watch because of the thrill in seeing Neal getting away with whatever con he’s pulling, be warned there’s less tension than in previous seasons. That said, newbies should be sure to watch Seasons One and Two first, or you will not fully appreciate Season Three.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is in tune with its broadcast presentation. However, the outdoor shots in particular demonstrate a keen eye for color balance, as the white levels were kept from blowing out and the black levels kept from over-saturating. The Dolby 5.1 Surround is nothing special. Like many shows who utilize it, the extra channels are overkill. Rarely was there an episode which tested the capacity of the audio system.
Bonus features are kind of stingy. For a show which only has sixteen episodes, you’d think Universal would squeeze in some additional content to persuade people to buy the set. There are a few deleted scenes, one episode commentary, a gag reel, and two featurettes. The first is a Season Three trivia challenge for the cast. Even though they’re supposed to be playing against one another, each team helped their opposition so everyone tied. The second, “Jeff Eastin: @ddicted,” is all about the showrunner’s addiction to Twitter. Lame…or should I say #lame?
White Collar: The Complete Third Season left me wondering, though a great cliffhanger pays off for stumbles throughout the season.