One of the least talked-about shows of the fall season, ABC’s “Thieves” is also one of the most fun. Light and unpretentious, this series from Arnold and Anne Kopelson and creator Jim Leonard jams sexy leads, snappy dialogue and cartoonish thrills into a fast-paced hour of pure escapist entertainment. Ratingswise, it could use a dash of luck — the Friday-at-9 spot is hardly the timeslot of champions — but some good notices, lead-in help from “The Mole II” and word of mouth will hopefully make this caper skein a keeper.
“Thieves’ ” obvious cousin is “Moonlighting,” ABC’s dramedy that generated heat from Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd and their rapid-fire banter from 1985-1989. Twelve years later, the prescription still works thanks to good-humored perfs by John Stamos and Australian thesp Melissa George. Certainly not the biggest names on the fall docket, they click with a combination of easygoing attitude and unforced playfulness.
Stamos is Johnny, a master safe-cracker who teams with Rita (George) on a complex assignment to steal diamonds from Fat Tony (Claudio Masciulli). With some clever scheming, major planning and a little super glue, the two break in, crack the safe, nab the money and get away … almost.
Waiting for Johnny and Rita are a company of feds who have been tracking the dynamic duo for years. Having been set up by Tony (and having left the keys in the getaway car anyway), they’re both collared and are facing years in prison until Agent Shue (Robert Knepper) cuts them a deal. If they become government-sponsored bandits, they will avoid serious jail time.
And so begins the adventures of two hot-bodied criminals. Their first case is to retrieve a stolen videocassette taken by two-bit thug Leo Kanowski (Max Perlich), who happens to be on the run from foreign hit-men. Nobody knows what’s actually on the tape, but getting it becomes a chemistry lesson as Johnny and Rita bicker, spar, wine and dine while paying informants, spying on suspects and working the system.
“Thieves” is hardly meaningful television, and it requires giant leaps of faith when it comes to the actual heists Stamos and George are asked to pull off. But its high-concept idea, director James Frawley’s peppy execution and Leonard’s screenplay make for a very lively hour, stuffed with sexual tension, courtship rituals and Macgyver-like tricks of the trade.
Narrative is driven only by Stamos and George, while a rather ordinary supporting cast stays in the background. The topliners get plenty of face-to-face time, and the opposites-attract theory is used to the max; her cold, angry stares are a perfect foil to his George Clooney-like headbobs and charming smiles. And, of course, he always wants to sleep with her, but she’s usually too mad at him to give in.
Tech credits are tops, highlighted by a blue-lens technique that appears only during the actual break-ins. Show was filmed in Toronto, but no mention of a specific city is ever made in the debut.