"People like us, we live on borrowed time," a fellow con artist prophetically tells TV's most debonair FBI consultant, the dapper Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer). "Spend your time well, Neal. Before you know it, it will be gone."
True words, because USA's diverting crime dramedy White Collar (Thursday, 9/8c) has returned from a long hiatus — the last episode aired in late January — but only for a short and hopefully sweet sixth and final season of a mere six episodes. Let's welcome it as a bonus miniseries: White Collar: Neal Vs. The Pink Panthers, as Neal sets his stylish fedora on infiltrating a notorious international gang of thieves, named after the classic film franchise. (And if ever there was a show deserving of a catchy Henry Mancini score, it's this one.)
Neal's latest mission reflects his, and the show's, endgame of potentially setting our hero free at last from his indentured servitude to the FBI, where as too often happens, his Fed partner Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and assorted cohorts initially question Neal's trustworthiness in the wake of his sudden disappearance (abduction) at the end of last season. Once the dust settles, Neal has the leverage, after being disappointed time and again by Peter's bosses, to make demands that if he brings down the Panthers, the ankle bracelet will come off once and for all, providing the happy ending he and his fans have long been waiting for.
But first, he'll have to impress the world's most skilled and ruthless thieves that he belongs in their company, which means pulling off some elaborate capers, a White Collar specialty. One involving a valuable 19th-century stamp is especially fun, in part because the charade ropes Peter into going undercover as Neal's dad, putting a new spin on their enduring bromantic partnership.
White Collar is among the most enjoyable shows ever to employ the USA formula of breezy, humor-laced intrigue. It made a star of Bomer, who enjoys such an effortless chemistry with DeKay and the funky-quirky Willie Garson (as Neal's shadowy sidekick Mozzie) that we almost hate to see it end. But all things must, and if the first two episodes are any indication, it's going out with typical panache.
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DAY OF THE TURKEY: Meanwhile, it's all business on USA's Covert Affairs, a much more grim (these days) spy thriller, resuming its fifth season (10/9c) with rogue Annie (Piper Perabo), still on CIA suspension, tracking the diplomat she deems responsible for the terrorist bombing in Chicago and for the injury that has put her new partner/lover (Nic Bishop) in the hospital. Before he can even wake up, Annie's off to glorious Istanbul to follow a lead — and for a while, I lost track of the convoluted story because I got so caught up in the sightseeing, as if I were experiencing a leg of The Amazing Race with gunfire. (A routine rooftop chase is a lot more impressive with the mosques and minarets of the Istanbul skyline in the background.)
Back on the home front, as Calder (Hill Harper) enlists his lovely professional "escort" (Nazneen Contractor) to do some Mata Hari-style seduction on behalf of the mission, we're reminded again of the double entendre implicit in the show's title. If no one's getting some romantic action on this series, what's the point of saving the world?
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: Things get more serious than usual for the glib crime-solvers on Fox's Bones (8/7c) when the investigation into another grisly cadaver exposes the tragic toll of human trafficking. Among the suspects: Downton Abbey's Phyllis Logan as a wealthy employer, unrecognizable if you've only known her as the kindly Mrs. Hughes. ... CBS's The Big Bang Theory (8/7c) stages a rooftop "prom night," which you'd think would only rekindle unpleasant memories for this group. ... "Nothing like a motel room in the morning to make you want to kill yourself," opines Bonnie (Allison Janney), summing up the family's dire yet darkly funny situation on CBS's Mom (8:30/7:30c). ... A new season of Jerry Seinfeld's online series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee begins on Crackle, with Kevin Hart, who you'd think wouldn't require caffeine, as his first guest. ... Future mom Amber (Mae Whitman) offers to babysit Max and Nora on NBC's Parenthood (10/9c), a situation pregnant with disastrous possibilities.