There’s nothing new under the sun, but USA seems to get more mileage out of its retreads than most. Neatly in tune with the breezy charms of “Burn Notice,” “White Collar” recycles the outlines of “It Takes a Thief,” as a high-tech criminal/con artist grudgingly teams with the FBI investigator who put him away. Squabbling shotgun marriages have been a staple of TV, and the series gets nice chemistry initially out of Matt Bomer and “Carnivale’s” Tim DeKay. USA’s run of good fortune might run dry, but with “White Collar,” the channel looks dressed for success.
Bomer’s Neal Caffrey inexplicably escapes from jail months before his scheduled release, and it doesn’t take G-man Peter Burke (DeKay) long to catch up with him. Seems Neal is still pining for his old girlfriend, who has changed her identity and fled to whereabouts unknown.
Eager to stay at liberty in order to find her, Neal offers to help Burke corral other white-collar thieves to secure his freedom — or at least remain out of prison. Of course, there are certain indignities associated with the deal — like being forced to wear an ankle locator and live in a flop house — but he’s resourceful enough to trump the latter by finding a rich widow (Diahann Carroll, in a recurring role) to take him in.
The notion of white collar crime seems timely, but one suspects the series, created by Jeff Eastin, will be less about hunting down Madoff types than a means to explore capers with a high-tech twist. The first case, in the extended 90-minute premiere, involves art fraud, and while the story beats are familiar enough, the resolution is certainly clever and niftily done.
Perhaps more significantly, beyond the intermittently hostile “48 HRs.”-like relationship between the leads, they’re flanked by promising supporting players. “Sex and the City’s” Willie Garson plays Neal’s confederate Mozzie, while Tiffani Thiessen is cast as Burke’s patient wife, whose husband is a trifle too honest to provide her the finer things to which the suave, law-breaking Caffrey has grown accustomed.
“White Collar’s” pilot is directed by Bronwen Hughes, whose credits include “Burn Notice,” the best of USA’s recent crop of original series, which tend to mix action with whimsy. This latest caper isn’t at that level yet, but based on the channel’s track record, you’d be ill-advised to bet against it tracking down an audience.