White Collar -- TV Review

Suckers for deft displays of dialogue embedded in sharp, stylish crime dramas would naturally divine that USA's new series "White Collar" would provide at least a sold hour of interesting drama. And "Collar" is certainly that: This is a show so attuned to production design that prison cell interiors have low-hanging bare incandescent bulbs, all the better for smashing in anger.

So, it looks good. But enter the dialogue -- say, in a scene that starts out with a flirty comment about dancing and dating that leads to the outing of an FBI agent and the evolution into a clip about gays in the Bureau, followed by this riposte: "We don't ask, we don't care."

That's how "Collar" will hook you.

On the surface, it seems like 10 other such crime dramas out there: cool natural light, glass walls, sensible protagonist in agent Peter Stokes (Tim DeKay), who's paired with his exact opposite in sleek, sly pretty boy Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a failed escapee Stokes spent three years chasing. Before you can say "48 HRS.," Caffrey is enlisted to help solve crimes under the watchful eye of Stokes -- and a GPS tracking device.

So far so familiar. But buried in the premise is a crisp script and "Dragnet"-with-humor repartee between the two winning leads, backed up by an excellent support cast. Stokes and Caffrey have immediate chemistry, and it's a pleasure to see two smart, resourceful, equally matched characters go up against each other, both trying to be the cleverest guy in the room. This is a show packed with smart people who make things happen and, even when following a predictable forgery crime -- one that shoots off into interesting side alleys -- always are one step ahead of viewers' expectations.

Creator Jeff Eastin already has had two bites at the showrunning apple: 1999's "Shasta McNasty" and 2004's "Hawaii," both short-lived and unmemorable. But the third time seems to be the charm, and Eastin has set a high bar with the premiere. But making this series last is a caper that he and his able-bodied cast and writers should be able to pull off. It'd be criminal if they couldn't.

Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23 (USA)
Production: Fox Television Studios
Cast: Matt Bomer, Tim DeKay, Tiffani Thiessen, Willie Garson, Natalie Morales, Diahann Carroll
Executive producers: Jeff Eastin
Creator-writer: Jeff Eastin
Co-executive producers: Jeff King, Clifton Campbell
Consulting producer: Tom Garrigus
Supervising producer: Joan Binder Weiss
Producers: Don Kurt, Margo Myers
Director: Bronwen Hughes
Director of photography: Russell Fine
Production designer: Lester Cohen
Costume designer: Stephanie Maslansky
Casting: Gayle Pillsbury, Julie Tucker, Ross Meyerson
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