The Netflix Queue: Leverage

It’s so rare these days to come across a TV show that ends when it should’ve. So often, shows will continue as long as they’re making money, and more often than not that means we get a season or two (or more) near the end that most fans just prefer to ignore. Just as often, we’ll get a show cancelled before its time, ending on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved, leaving fans frustrated and bitter.

Leverage is one of those preciously rare shows that falls into neither trap. It’s five seasons long, five glorious seasons, and while the end may leave you wanting more, it’s still an extremely satisfying ending that is well worth the watch.

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The Netflix Queue: White Collar

As you may have noticed, my reviews of TV shows tend to be less reviews and more “here is what I love and why you should watch it as well.” And admittedly, most of the shows I like are usually over and have been for years. Even now, I can count the number of currently airing shows I watch on one hand: Castle, Doctor Who, and The Big Bang Theory.

Now I get to add another show to that list: White Collar.

As I don’t get cable, I haven’t seen any of season 3. However, the first two seasons are on Netflix Instant Watch, and I talked my roommates into giving it a try back in January.

Since then, we’ve watched the entire thing twice and are more than halfway through our third go-round. To say that we like it is putting it mildly.

In fact, I may be a little obsessed. As I’ve mentioned.

White Collar cast - Mozzie (Willie Garson), Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen)

Just a little.

Premise: Neal Caffrey is a convicted bond forger who is also suspected of numerous other crimes, such as counterfeiting, racketeering, and art theft, just to name a few. He cuts a deal with the FBI to come work with them as a consultant, and he’s put under the care of FBI agent Peter Burke, head of the white collar crime unit and the guy who caught Neal in the first place.

Now, a few reasons you should be watching:

6. It’s a show about heists and cons.

Do you like The Sting? Catch Me If You Can? Ocean’s 11? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? If those movies top your favorites list, then this is the show for you.

I love heist movies. Having an entire show devoted to cons and heists, either breaking them up or engaging in your own, is like candy.

5. The dialogue

Oh my gosh, the dialogue. It’s rapidly reaching the super-quotable state, wherein I am no longer allowed to watch the show around people because I can’t help but say the lines along with the characters, or repeat said lines while giggling madly.

It’s not quite Joss Whedon level, but it’s so much fun, and all the characters get in some great lines.

An example (and one of my personal favorite exchanges):

(As Neal is examining a plate of the U.S. hundred-dollar bill)
Peter: “I’m not comfortable with this.”
Neal: “You’re not comfortable? I’m the one with the Men in Black bobsled team breathing down my neck.”
Peter: “Those are U.S. treasury agents, and you look like a twelve-year-old who’s just discovered the lingerie section of the Sears catalog.”

4. The clothes

I knew guys looked good in suits. I was unaware quite how good. Thank you, White Collar, for educating me.

White Collar - Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) - photo credit NBC Universal

I mean but damn.

3. Short seasons, no heavy serialization, and a light tone.

Since I’ve talked about all these before, they’re under one heading. Heavily serialized shows, like Lost and Heroes, turn me off very quickly because if you miss even one episode, you’re completely lost until you can catch the whole thing on DVD. It’s like skipping a chapter in the middle of the book.

I by far prefer the shows that are more like picking up a book in a series. Yes, you’re going to get more out of it if you watch it in order, but if you accidentally get started on book two or three, you’re not going to be completely out of your depth.

Thankfully, White Collar is similar to Doctor Who and Buffy in that while there is a story thread that runs through each season, the episodes themselves are fairly standalone. There are maybe 4-5 episodes per season that deal, heavily, with the overall arc.

Plus, the shorter seasons leave me wanting more. Like I said earlier, we’ve watched every episode available twice, and some of them three times.

Overall, the tone of the show is pretty light, as they’re dealing primarily with white collar crime. And sometimes, that’s all you really want: something fun that makes you laugh. No apocalypse, no “we must save the world,” just something simple. White Collar delivers.

2. Mozzie and Elizabeth

In order for a show to be really good, the supporting characters have to be just as good as the main ones. Fortunately, Mozzie (Willie Garson) and Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) fit the bill perfectly.

Mozzie is one of Neal’s oldest friends, a fellow criminal who peppers his speech with his favorite quotations and has conspiracy theory down to an art form.

He is Neal’s man on the street, bringing back information that Neal can use as part of his deal with the FBI. And, despite vociferous protests, Mozzie helps out the FBI himself more than once. (The scene where he very first sets foot in the FBI offices, in the second season, is a highlight of its episode.)

Elizabeth is Peter’s wife of ten years, and she’s a very good match for him. She’s very patient and perceptive, good traits when Peter has to call and beg off their plans for the night because of a case. She even helps him with work from time to time. Watching her help him flirt with another woman while he’s (sort of) undercover is HILARIOUS.

(Side note: My inner 8-year-old is PSYCHED to see Kelly Kapowski on TV again. She was my favorite character on Saved by the Bell.)

1. Peter and Neal

Really, the two biggest reasons to watch this show?

Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) - the reasons I can't concentrate when this show is on.

These guys. Right here.

Yes. They are just that awesome.

Neal is smart, suave and outrageously charming, all traits that have served him well in his life as a con man. He also has a taste for the finer things in life: good wine, good espresso, and custom suits. His ability to charm people gets him into almost as much trouble as it gets him out of, but the sheer chutzpah he has just makes him a ton of fun to watch.

Peter is probably one of my favorite characters ever. Yes, he’s the straight man in the duo, but it’s his steadiness that keeps Neal (mostly) on the right side of the law. Plus, he’s willing to follow Neal into certain grey areas…or at least, allow Neal to roam them a little more freely in the interest of justice.

I was concerned, during the first episode, that they were going to make him into the stereotypical workaholic agent who completely neglects his wife, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they didn’t go that route. They also take the time to show that he and Elizabeth really work as a couple, which is a nice change of pace.

And the one thing that bugs me: The product placement

I would bet my next three paychecks that Ford Motor Company foots a large part of this show’s bill, based on how many up-close shots and references we get to Peter’s Taurus. (Yes, I know what kind of car the character drives. The last time I knew what kind of car a character drove, it was a Delorean.)

For the most part, I can let it slide (although it does get giggle-worthy occasionally). However, there are a couple of times when it’s really shoehorned into the story, especially in tense situations, and that’s irritating.

I’m already suspending my disbelief that the FBI lets Neal get away with as much shit as he does, okay? Don’t push it with crappy car talk.

But, let’s face it. I’m willing to tolerate a little more product placement if it’ll keep the show on the air.

So, yes. Those are six reasons I love this show, and why season 3 is my “Yay! You made your goals!” bribe to myself for this month.

Have you seen White Collar? What do you think? And are there any good shows you’ve been watching lately?

Pictures are most likely copyright the USA Network.

The Netflix Queue: Doctor Who

I count myself a nerd. Really, I do. Science fiction, fantasy, nine times out of 10, I love it. Which is why it’s such a crime that it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve gotten into the two sci-fi behemoths from opposite ends of the Atlantic.

In January 2009, I watched my first episode of the original Star Trek series, which put me on the path to catching that, then The Next Generation, then Voyager. And in January 2011, I finally started watching Doctor Who.

A bit of personal history, if you’ll indulge me.

The first Doctor Who episode I ever saw all the way through was Season 4’s “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” wherein there is a space wasp terrorizing a house of wealthy British people in the 1920s, and Agatha Christie is in attendance. That, for the record, is a VERY WEIRD introduction to Doctor Who, especially considering that it was coming on right after Battlestar Galactica at the time. (Thank you, SciFi, for your extremely strange programming choices. Let’s put the family-friendly action-adventure show on AFTER the horrifically depressing, geared-totally-for-adults space drama. That’s smart.)

Current companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)

ANYWAY. Fast forward a couple of years, and once again, here’s a show which is on Netflix Instant Watch in its (almost) entirety. (I say “almost” because the show is still airing.) Guess what? It’s good. Like, really good.

Now I might possibly have watched all five seasons available on Netflix Instant Watch, as well as the five specials that aired during 2009, several of the older serials, the first half of the sixth season, and the Doctor Who theme might be my ringtone. (When I get into a show, I get into it. None of this halfway b.s. for me.)

Basic summary of the show: The Doctor is a nearly immortal alien (called a Time Lord) who travels through space and time in his TARDIS, which is pretty much permanently stuck in the form of a 1950s-era police phone box. (It’s also bigger on the inside.) Along the way, he picks up different companions to take on his adventures. When he’s fatally injured, he regenerates into a new person with a new personality, which is why the show has had 11 different lead actors since 1963.

Obviously, after more than 30 years on the air, there’s a WHOLE lot more to the story than that. (If you’ve got a free afternoon, start with this Wikipedia article and click your way through to find out more.) But rather than try to condense it all, here are seven reasons why I love this show so much, and why you should give it a chance.

7. Each season is only 13 episodes long.

Fourteen if you count the Christmas specials. (Yes, Doctor Who always has a Christmas special.) Fewer episodes per season means less filler, which means fewer useless episodes. So far, each season has left me wanting more (especially the first), and I have to really, really think to come up with a weak episode. (In fact, there are only two, maybe three, that I can think of, out of five and a half seasons of the modern series.) How many American shows can you say that about?

6. It’s silly.

Very, very silly. A talking robot dog with a suction-cup scanner on his forehead? Giant pepper pots with a toilet plunger for a hand? The aforementioned space wasp? Modified British fighter planes from the 1940s engaged in a Star Wars-esque space battle with an incoming ship? A man-eating garbage can?

For pity’s sake, it’s about a 900-year-old alien who travels through time and space in a 1950s-era police box time machine. Yes, it gets very silly, and you have two choices at these points: scoff at it, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. Take it from me: just sit back and enjoy the ride.

So many shows think that they have to be serious and/or witty all the time. It’s really enjoyable to find a show that can be silly and adventurous and light-hearted. Of course…

The Doctor Donna

The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) -- my personal favorite duo

5. It’s also scary.

Shortly after I started watching Doctor Who, I found a Flair button on Facebook that read (paraphrased): “I’m afraid of weeping angels, dark libraries, and people who repeat everything I say.” All three of those are villains in at least one episode of the modern series, and all three are CREEPY AS HELL.

You have the Weeping Angels (“Blink,” “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone”), intergalactic assassins that move only when you don’t look at them. Then there are the Vashta Nerada (“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”), carnivorous aliens that lurk in the shadows. And the unnamed being in “Midnight,” who takes over a human body and only speaks by repeating everything that’s said around it.

Plus, the most recent season has introduced the Silence, a race of aliens who make you forget that you’ve seen them as soon as you look away. (Oh, and the Gangers (short for doppelgangers), human lookalikes created from synthetic flesh who absorb the memories of whichever person created them.)

These aren’t just cheap scares; these are genuinely creepy, probably-shouldn’t-watch-it-right-before-bed stories. They get under your skin in the best kind of way.

4. It’s moving.

Silly, scary, and emotionally moving? You’d better believe it. It can be both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, often in the very same scene.

The modern series delves a little bit deeper into the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and into the lives of the companions, than did the classic series. It makes all the characters more three-dimensional, which means you find yourself really connecting with them.

Plus, self-sacrifice is a running theme through the show. Even though the good guys usually win the day, there is a cost. Even if you like someone (especially if you like someone), at some point they’re going to have to sacrifice either themselves or something very important to them in order to save the day.

3. The adventure-of-the-week format.

For whatever reason, recently it’s seemed like every new show has had to follow a very dedicated serial format. If you miss even one episode, you’re screwed and will have to either wait for reruns or the DVD to catch up on what you missed. After trying to watch Heroes, I learned I really, really, REALLY hate that format.

Thankfully, Doctor Who is not like that. While there is typically an overarching plot to each season, most of the episodes are self-contained stories. I love that you can skip around and watch different episodes and not get completely lost. It makes it so much easier to enjoy.

Rose and the Ninth Doctor

Companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)

2. Great villains and great authors.

Do you like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? Then you’ll be happy to know that Simon Pegg shows up as a villain in the first season. Are you a fan of Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)? He, too, makes an appearance as a villain in the second season (in one of my personal favorite episodes).

If you’re a book nerd like me, then you’ll be happy to know that the Doctor interacts with some classic authors, including Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, and (of course) William Shakespeare. (Those are easily some of my favorite episodes, because come on, how awesome would that be?)

If you’re unsure about Doctor Who, but are intrigued by the inclusion of one of the mentioned authors or actors, watch that episode first and see what you think.

1. The Doctor. Is. Awesome.

Really, there’s just no better way to say it. The companions are great, the villains are great, but the Doctor himself is awesome.

So far, all three of the new Doctors — Nine (Christopher Eccleston), Ten (David Tennant), and Eleven (Matt Smith) — have been extremely entertaining, charismatic, and just fun to watch. It’s quite the job to take over as the Doctor, but each of them jumped in and made the character their own. It’s because of them that I’ve watched and loved the show as much as I have. (Shoot, this is the ONLY show I even try to watch when it actually broadcasts.)

I realize that if the show keeps going (already they’ve scheduled a seventh season), we’ll probably have a new Doctor in the next year or two. I can only hope that Doctor #12 is as good as his (or her) predecessors have been.

Well, Critic, that sounds like an awesome show! Where should I start?

I’m glad you asked! There are a few different places you can pick up the show.

First (and my personal recommendation), you can start watching with the first episode of the modern series, called “Rose.” This is the one that had to introduce the Doctor to a new generation, and did a damn good job of it.

If you want another place in the first season to start, there’s “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”, a two-parter that is easily my favorite story arc of the first season, if not the entire series. Also, it introduces Captain Jack Harkness, one of my favorite companions and the main character from the spinoff “Torchwood.”

Another place you can pick up is with “The Eleventh Hour,” the first episode of the fifth season. Since the show changed hands behind the scenes (from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat), it’s a clean slate: new Doctor, new companion, new everything.

I started with “Rise of the Cybermen”/”The Age of Steel,” a two-parter from the second season. I don’t know that this is the best place to start (there are some plot elements that make more sense if you’ve seen the first season), but it got me to fall in love with the show. It’s unique in that it’s an alternate universe story, rather than taking place in the past or future of the show’s regular world.

If you like the idea of an episode that relies heavily on time travel, start with “Blink,” from the third season. Warning: this is a Doctor-lite episode, so you won’t see much from him or his companion. However, this episode introduces the Weeping Angels and is just a phenomenal episode all around.

And there you have it: seven reasons you should start watching Doctor Who, and a few different places to start. I hope you enjoy!

Allons-y!

All photos are credit the BBC and SciFi. Or is it SyFy now?