Slick and smart, White Collar‘s first episode struck me as charming escapism. It fits the USA Network’s business plan of sunny crime-solving shows — Burn Notice; Royal Pains — but it didn’t come off like a show conceived as a cynical ratings ploy. Instead, the brisk pace and easygoing chemistry between White Collar‘s stars, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay, is something that can’t be faked for very long. These guys just seem to work well together.

If you buy the premise — that Bomer’s Neal Caffrey is a master con man and thief whose abilities are fully equal to DeKay’s first-class FBI guy Peter Burke — then you buy the show. The merits of White Collar can’t be ascribed just to movies that have been popping up in many other reviews (Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, most frequently), but goes back at least as far as the Paul Newman-Robert Redford flick The Sting. It’s the pleasure of seeing pros do their thing with panache, while ribbing each other and tweaking the audience.

Bomer arrives with a lot of fan goodwill from his stint on Chuck. And those hardy few of us who watched HBO’s sorely under-viewed 2007 series Tell Me You Love Me know what a fine dramatic actor McKay is. (And I’m tellin’ ya, folks — you missed a whole lotta Sonya Walger that they’ve never shown on Lost or FastForward.)

I’m not saying White Collar is instant-classic TV. Created by Jeff Eastin, it’s fun, and occasionally more than fun, as when Neal tries coming on to Burke’s female FBI colleague only to discover she’s gay and says, “Don’t you guys have some rule about that?” To which Burke replied, “Yeah: We don’t ask, we don’t care.”

That’s the kind of line that could keep me caring for White Collar. Add Tiffani Thiessen as Burke’s wife and Willie Garson from Sex and the City as Neal’s shady pal, and it’s a no-brainer can’t-miss.

Did you watch? What did you think?