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TELEVISION REVIEW

'White Collar' on USA Network

The most promising drama of the new season crackles with wit and charm, echoing 'It Takes a Thief' and boasting the best-matched lead characters since Butch and Sundance.

October 23, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

Just when you thought bromance was dead, here comes "White Collar," a crime drama premiering on USA tonight that lifts the genre to a new and dazzling level.

Sparkling, snappy, bursting with energy and good clean heist fun, the first episode of "White Collar" may, in fact, be the most perfect pilot to air in a long, long time.

Sure, there are shameless echoes of "It Takes a Thief," the show that launched Robert Wagner's television career, but who cares? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and "White Collar's" creator, Jeff Easton, promises only improvement, and with a pitch-perfect cast that comes together to create that cinematic Holy Grail: chemistry.

Matt Bomer is Neal Caffrey, a convicted thief of all trades who busts out of jail only to be caught again by the man who originally put him behind bars. But this time, Caffrey has a deal: If he can help FBI agent Peter Burke (Tom DeKay) solve his toughest high-end crimes, Caffrey goes free. With the obligatory GPS-tracking ankle bracelet, of course.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, October 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
"White Collar": In Friday's Calendar section, a review of the USA drama series "White Collar" misstated co-star Tim DeKay's first name as Tom.

Bomer, last seen as Bryce Larkin on "Chuck," is all blue eyes, chiseled chin and president of the rowing club charm, a man capable of wrangling room-with-a-view and board from a rich widow (Diahann Carroll) with nothing more than a knowing compliment and a smile. DeKay's Burke is yin to his yang, a little rumpled (down to the Columbo-like raincoat and limited wardrobe), thoroughly decent and refreshingly wry.

"How upset were the Canadians?" he is asked at one point.

"Very upset," Burke answers deadpan. "Or as upset as Canadians get."

With an endearing blend of mutual irritation and admiration, the two exchange quips, arcane information and life philosophies. Not since Butch and Sundance has there been a sexier, more promising partnership. And after watching the buddy movie/show repeatedly hijacked by slacker dudes, geeks and stoners, Caffrey and Burke are a bracing and sophisticated antidote.

These are grown-up, well-educated men (remember those?), capable of referencing Goya, Pushkin, Ginsberg and Devore all within a honey of a counterfeit plot. With the two brandishing their various areas of expertise, "White Collar" promises to be the cream of the current detective-with-something-extra trend, an honors-class version of, say, "The Mentalist."

But as great as the writing is, what makes the show are the performances. Bomer and DeKay are so easy and perfect together, it only takes a few seconds for DeKay's performance as overwhelmed husband and habitual masturbator in "Tell Me You Love Me" to mercifully fade from memory. Both Caffrey and Burke come complete with overarching back story and supporting player.

Driven by an almost Puritan work ethic, Burke has been chasing criminals for so long he has forgotten how to enjoy himself, or his patient but more than occasionally neglected wife, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen). Caffrey, meanwhile, works just as hard, though his methods are less conventional, as personified by his pal Mozzie (the wonderful Willie Garson), a shadowy character who seems to know everything about everyone, except the location of Caffrey's former girlfriend. She ditched him while he was in prison and vanished. Although the sensible Burke advises Caffrey to forget her, finding her is clearly on the agenda.

Terrific acting, crackling dialogue and geek-hip crime are not the only things that make this the most electric drama to premiere this fall. For all its Rat Pack sensibility, "White Collar" has moments of surprising depth. When Burke forgets his anniversary, it's played for laughs but also examines the disturbing fact that he honestly doesn't know what pleases his wife. Likewise, Burke may be envious of his new partner's Golden Boy touch, but he knows Caffrey's charm and sense of entitlement are also what lead to all the easy-money plans that so often go awry.

Although there is a chance the show won't live up to the pilot, "White Collar" seems well on its way to becoming the star of USA's already impressive crown, a replacement, perhaps, for the departing "Monk" and a sign that while parent company NBC may have given up on hourlong scripted drama, its subsidiaries have not. Sorry, Jay, but now my Friday night is full too.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'White Collar'

Where: USA

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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