Monday, November 3, 2014

TV Show Review: White Collar - Season 5

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Stories still good; characters still fun
Cons: Characters have grown beyond the premise of the show.
The Bottom Line:
Still conning the cons
As characters outgrow show
Good but not the best

"Did You Set Off an Alarm?"  "Peter, That's Hurtful."

I hate to say it, but I’m actually kind of glad that the next season of White Collar will be the show’s final season.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying the show.  But the writers have to work so hard to keep the cast of characters together at this point, it’s time to set them free and bring an end to the saga.  Having said that, there is still plenty of fun to be had in season five, which is actually what I’m reviewing today.

If you have missed the show in the past, it focuses on Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a con man who has been caught by FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay).  Instead of serving out his sentence in prison, he’s become an asset to the FBI and helps them bring down other white collar criminals.  Reluctantly helping is Neal’s con man friend Mozzie (Willie Garson).  On the FBI side of things, we’ve gotten to know agents Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins) and Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason).  Rounding out the cast is Peter’s long suffering wife Elizabeth (Tiffany Thiessen) who occasionally gets involved in cases, too.

This season opens with Peter in prison after he got falsely accused of murder in the fourth season finale.  (But that’s a long story.)  Neal is willing to do anything to get him out of prison, especially when the person who really committed the murder goes underground.  In his efforts to do that, Neal winds up indebted to Curtis Hagen (Mark Sheppard), a dangerous man from his past, and once again finds himself trying to evade the FBI while working with them on cases while keeping his latest crimes secret to keep Hagen’s blackmail at bay.

Of course, there is always the case of the week that Neal, Peter, and the gang at the FBI need to solve.  This season we get such cases as a black market ring that leads straight to Mozzie, Neal becomes a butler to prove an imposter is in their midst, Peter must work with his ex-girlfriend on a case, and Diana must go undercover to stop a rogue stock trader.  Neal even gets a new love interest in Rebecca (Bridget Rega), a woman he meets at a museum early in the season.

Unfortuantely, Diana is absent for much of the season since Marsha Thomason gave birth in real life as well as on the show.  The rest of the cast is here full time however, and they are wonderful at bring their characters to life each week.  The guest stars jump right in and match this fine level of acting.

The overall story arc this season is very interesting and kept me off kilter with a couple of nice twists along the way.  This isn’t the show’s best story arc, but it was certainly entertaining.  Likewise, the cases of the week are wonderful as always, and I loved watching them work on solving these cases together.

So what is my problem this season?  We’ve gotten to the point where the characters have outgrown the premise of the show.  I’m not saying I think Neal has reformed, but he certainly has earned being off the anklet the FBI has used since season 1 to track him.  Yet we still have that plot devise.  Peter has been up for and turn down promotions several times to stay close to Neal.  In fact, they play with him moving to DC for much of this season.  And there is no reason in the real world he wouldn’t do that.  I’ve always loved how real and fully developed the characters on the show are, but unfortunately this is the result – too much realistic character growth hampered by the constraints of the show.

Having said all this, I’m thrilled the show is coming back for a final six episodes.  The cliffhanger at the end of this season cries out to be resolved.  And it will give us a chance to say goodbye to these characters properly and see where the next chapter for all of them begins.  (I just hope I like how they choose to end it.)

As always, the heart of the show is the relationship between Neal and Peter.  They do a better job of creating tension between them than in seasons past, but at times even that felt artificial.  And, as much as I love their relationship, it is the only reason Peter hasn’t taken a promotion, which doesn’t feel right to me.

This season consisted of 13 episodes, and all of them are present in this four disc set.  Not surprisingly, they are in their native wide screen and full surround as well.  Extras include a gag reel and deleted scenes as well as an audio commentary on the season finale and a featurette about star Willie Garson taking on directing duties for an episode this season.

So while I’m still enjoying the show overall, I’m glad everyone has agreed it is time to end the story.  Knowing that allows me to enjoy the fun of season five of White Collar more.

Season 5 Episodes:
1. At What Price
2. Out of the Frying Pan
3. One Last Stakeout
4. Controlling Interest
5. Master Plan
6. Ice Breaker
7. Quantico Closure
8. Digging Deeper
9. No Good Deed
10. Live Feed
11. Shot Through the Heart
12. Taking Stock
13. Diamond Exchange 

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