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Honor (and Style) Among Thieves: An Advance Review of USA's "White Collar"

Imagine the high stakes tension of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me if You Can crossed with the rapid-fire humor of The Thin Man films and the slick, elegant style of Mad Men.

Still with me? Combine those elements and you begin to approximate the effervescent and engaging new crime drama series White Collar, which launches in October on USA.

Created by Jeff Eastin (Hawaii) and directed by Bronwen Hughes (Burn Notice), White Collar is a cat-and-mouse chase with a twist: the bad guy was caught years ago by the good guy and now assists him in tracking down other nefarious types using his criminal skills, deductive powers, and roguish good looks.

The good guy in this case is FBI Agent Peter Stokes (Tell Me You Love Me's Tim DeKay), a grimly determined G-man assigned to the bureau's white collar crimes division. Which means that he spends his days (and often nights) tracking down art forgers, embezzlers, and con artists with a mix of relish and reluctance, given the quality time he's missing with his beautiful and supportive wife Debbie (What About Brian's Tiffani Thiessen).

As for the bad guy in this equation? It's impish criminal genius Neal Caffrey (Chuck's Matthew Bomer), a man who could charm the skin off a snake... and steal its fangs at the same time. He's so utterly charming that Peter Stokes spent years tracking him down and landing him in a maximum security prison to serve out a four-year sentence.

Which is where we find Caffrey at the start of White Collar's exuberant 90-minute pilot. But Caffrey's not staying put and hatches a plan to escape a Supermax prison... and he pulls this off with without breaking a sweat. (Let's just say that Michael Scofield should take notes.) Caffrey's not looking for freedom but rather his true love, a woman named Kate Moreau who breaks his heart while he's in prison and disappears without a trace. Peter Stokes, pulled off a forgery case, tracks Caffrey down at Kate's flat and it's back to prison for him.

Or is it? Caffrey manages to cut a deal with a highly reluctant Stokes: in exchange for getting him released from prison (his little escape plot landed him an additional four years), he'll be released into Stokes' custody, fitted with an ankle monitor, and he'll bring his criminal expertise to helping Stokes track down the biggest and baddest white collar miscreants, like the enigmatic forger The Dutchman (guest star Mark Sheppard), a man nearly as elusive as Caffrey himself.

And that's where White Collar's story really kicks off, as Caffrey becomes a valuable (if not quite trusted) member of Stokes' crack FBI task force and opts for a cushier life than the one that Stokes arranges for him at a fleabag motel, instead moving into a luxe mansion owned by June (Diahann Carroll), a gorgeous widow whose husband had himself been a stylish felon like Caffrey. Besuited and bedecked in the finest vintage fashion labels (Devore, no less), Caffrey cuts quite a figure. But it's not enough to earn him even a batted eyelash from Stokes' FBI probie Diana (Lost's Marsha Thomason), a gorgeous lesbian agent who Stokes jokes would rather wear Caffrey's fedora than swoon over it.

Despite being inside for four years, Caffrey still has a few tricks up his stylish sleeves and a network of informants, information-gatherers, and criminal experts to turn to when he's gently bending the rules of his release agreement. One such underworld contact is the shadowy and hysterical Mozzie (Sex and the City's Willie Garson), a career criminal with a penchant for banter and intelligence gathering.

While White Collar could be a run of the mill crime drama, it's elevated to new levels by the charisma and chemistry between DeKay and Bomer, who are both so perfectly cast and at ease in their roles that it's easy to fall for their inimical charms. DeKay nails the role of a weary FBI agent whose job it is to stay two steps ahead of the most mercurial individuals while never seeming like a dull stick-in-the-mud or irritatingly lifeless. Bomer effortlessly pulls off Caffrey's charming and debonair ways with a carefree energy and wicked spirit. These two are so brilliant in these roles that it's hard to imagine any other actor playing them with such panache. In their capable hands, Stokes and Caffrey engage in a deliciously mismatched partnership based on mutual distrust, respect, and oneupsmanship.

Kudos too to Thomason for turning what could be a one-dimensional role into a dynamic and memorable character whose sexuality isn't her defining quality but merely one aspect of her overall personality.

The writing in the pilot, courtesy of Jeff Eastin, is whip-smart and there are some great dramatic plants and payoffs as well as sly banter between the two leads and some nice surprises along the way. Director Bronwen Hughes keeps things moving at a brisk pace but also deftly showcases the beauty of the New York skyline and Caffrey's throwback fashioning with a real sense of love and admiration for time gone by. The feeling is something modern but embedded with nostalgia of an era long past; it's fast-paced but never loses sight of Caffrey's devilish nature.

Ultimately, White Collar is a perfect addition to USA's stable of quirky procedural dramas but also pushes the formula into a new direction, infusing the old tropes of criminal investigation with a sense of style, whimsy, and elegant fun. Sy Devore and the Rat Pack that he so chicly clothed would be proud.

White Collar premieres Friday, October 23rd at 10 pm ET/PT on USA.


Michelle said…
Fantastic- I have been watching promos and this is one of a handful of show that looked good to me, and it sounds like it fulfills the promise nicely.

Thanks for the great review.
Mazza said…
I may have just wet myself after squealing like a little girl!!! So excited about this! Love Tim Dekay and Matt Bomer & to have them together on one show is a dream come true! Sounds really fun!!!! Can't wait!
Mike said…
Thank you for publishing this Jace, I've been waiting for a while for someone to put something up regarding White Collar.

Matt Bomer is cool as the other side of the pillow and thought his Bryce character on Chuck was excellent. I'm glad to see him getting a chance to shine and his show looks great.

I really enjoy the shows that are face paced and dramatic but always have a humorous lighter side as well.

Can't wait!
Tempest said…
Soooo good to hear/read this. White Collar looked like it had the potential to be fun (a la Leverage and Hustle) -- glad to know that it's going to live up to its premise.
Asta said…
I planned on tuning in for DeKay and Bomer, but this - "crossed with the rapid-fire humor of The Thin Man films" - completely sold me on the series. :)
Bella Spruce said…
I'm a huge fan of Tim DeKay's from the under appreciated Carnivale and loved Matt Bomer on Chuck. Very excited to see the two of them together. Sounds like this is going to be a really fun show.
OldDarth said…
Can't wait to see how Bryce er Matt does as the star of his show.
Terrific review. I'm all in.

Plus, Bomer is delightful; I'm glad he finally found a series that looks like it has a fighting chance.

I've missed DeKay since Carnivale. It'll be nice seeing him in something new.

Anyone spotting slash a mile off?
kat said…
Thanks for the review. I am adding this show to my list of new shows to watch!
RT said…
I just wish this show wasn't on Friday nights. Why not on Wednesdays where USA has opportunity for more viewers.
Osgood Schlatter said…
I'm looking forward to this. After all, I loved "It Takes a Thief" 40 years ago, and this looks like a hipper version of that show.

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