Week-to-week consistency continues to bedevil White Collar. After two fantastic episodes launched the unconventional buddy dramedy back into must-see terrain, season three has, in keeping with the series’ overall pattern, begun to sag around its mid-section. Most recently, a poorly conceived guest turn from Jayne Atkinson threw “Deadline” off course, and tonight, “Dentist of Detroit” wastes a terrific opportunity to exploit lingering curiosity about Mozzie’s history.
The title refers to our bespectacled sidekick’s earliest alter-ego, which he apparently created as a front for numbers-running scams in the Motor City when he was only 12 years old. Unfortunately, one of his victims was mob boss Frank Deluca, who spent the rest of his life seeking out the mysterious Dentist of Detroit for revenge. Now that Deluca’s turned up dead, Frank Jr. (Al Sapienza, aka Sopranos’ Mikey Palmice, in an errantly over-the-top performance) has come to New York. And, as we learn in a scene that may as well have been plucked from the Johnny Dangerously school of shakedowns, he’s looking to finish what his dad started. Turns out Jr. was tipped off by donations Mozzie contributed to the Detroit group home where he was raised by an angelic figure named Mr. Jeffries. Or something. Besides eliciting deserved groans, the whole Mozzie/guardian caretaker plot makes scant use of venerable presence Ernie Hudson as Jeffries, whose primary screen time has been edited down to Polaroids and tollbooth snapshots.
Much to Peter’s disbelief, and Mozzie’s own dismay, Neal’s right-hand man gets put into protective FBI custody while our starring duo sets out to capture the bad guys. In one of White Collar’s fussiest cons yet, this somehow necessitates a densely orchestrated sting that involves off-track betting and the Irish Mafia. And that’s only after Mozzie narrates his rags to stolen riches tale over prolonged flashbacks that mostly set up a bunch of visual gags about the nerdy swindler’s receded hair and oversized glasses.
These tonally ambitious escapades never seem to work and underscore White Collar's aforementioned larger identity crisis. This show is smarter and more rewarding than your average hour of late-night basic cable, but sometimes it tries too hard at accomplishing more than that. In the case of “Dentist Of Detroit” specifically, that would be a gentle satire of the genre it inherited, from the school flashbacks to Mozzie's hackneyed "save the orphanage" fiasco. It’s an approach that has worked in episodes past, but generally within the confines of Peter and Neal’s lived-in relationship, so often a successful vessel for that kind of winking material without becoming a distraction from the present action.
To wit, the finest moment of the episode has nothing to do with Mozzie whatsoever (that was a lot of hard work just to give us reason to think he might start having second thoughts about betraying “the suits). It arrives instead when Peter and Neal have to improvise a falling out during their sting, and their insults function as a thinly veiled airing out of their actual tension. I also enjoyed the final seconds, when the mutually suspicious friends shared yet another coy exchange and subtle glance in reference to their zeroing in on each other over the stolen U-boat haul. That, and the scattered laughs from everyone involved simply being themselves (Peter’s disgust at satisfying Mozzie’s request for silk pajamas comes to mind), and not some dually operating insight into how their characters and motives are analogs for—and cleverer versions of—familiar tropes. White Collar has enough double dealings already.
- Yet again, several characters get forced to the margins to service an over-complicated storyline, nevermind Hudson’s abbreviated role. Why? So Diahann Caroll can make her contractually required appearances and steal their screen-time?
- A few solid Mozzie toss-offs: Eddie Nineball, bubblegum ice cream, and his grating on Jones’ nerves. Those two make great foils.
- The Ferris Bueller gag was actually kind of great. Until they ruined it by spelling out that Mozzie went Ferris Bueller.
- Would it really take Peter and Neal even 30 seconds to put two and two together about Mozart the bear and Mozzie’s elected nom de crime?
- “You love my hats!”
- That was a brutal Ford placement. It’s moments like that where you feel for actors. Although, 5,000 pounds for a sleek consumer SUV? Damn!