By John Hanlon
For six years, Milo Ventimiglia inspired audiences and broke hearts as the ill-fated father Jack Pearson on This is Us. In his new show, Ventimiglia brings his more light-hearted side to the forefront as a con man who falls in love with a CIA agent. The Company You Keep, the new drama that airs Sundays on ABC, has a familiar plot but its energy and playfulness keeps it entertaining even when it hits conventional notes.
Two episodes of the show were available to review with the first one being a plot-heavy introduction to the characters. Ventimiglia stars as Charlie Nicoletti, a con man who was seemingly raised in the business. His parents Lee (William Fichtner) and Fran (Polly Draper) are con artists and so is his sister, Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies). The family, who also own a bar, works as a unit to take advantage of thieves, criminals and liars.
In addition to the family dynamic, the pilot also introduces the fact that Charlie and CIA officer Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) are unlucky in love. In the pilot, Charlie is betrayed by his fiancée while Emma faces heartbreak from her cheating partner. Charlie and Emma get together during the pilot episode, which also introduces Daphne (Felisha Terrell), a criminal who blackmails the Nicoletti family and forces them to collect the money they stole from her.
There’s a lot of plot to take in during the jam-packed first episode and this doesn’t cover everything that happens.
The second episode features a less plot-heavy story and seemingly hints at what the show wants to be. The episode features the Nicoletti family doing a job while Emma tries to make a case against Daphne, not knowing how connected Charlie is to her target.
Created by Julia Cohen (who produced A Million Little Things and Riverdale) and Phil Klemmer (who produced DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Chuck), the new show has hints of The Americans and Alias while also focusing on the romance between the two leading actors. Ventimiglia brings his charm and charisma to the leading role while Haena Kim does a solid job in her role even though she has less to do her than her counterpart.
The first episode is undeniably clunky but the second one feels more secure and sets the show’s tone much better. The best part of the show is Charlie’s family dynamic and his family work together to con their unsuspecting victims. Their attempt to steal a valuable necklace from a rich couple in the second episode shows how much fun this show can be and reveals how the cast — especially the underrated Fichtner — is up to the job.
While Charlie comes from a family of con artists, his counterpart Emma comes from a family of politicians. Emma's father was a politician, her brother is running for office and her mother runs things behind the scenes. The writers seem to be setting up some long-term stories here, which could be interesting but lack the fun, energetic spirit of Nicoletti family scenes.
The overstuffed pilot episode of The Company You Keep has its pleasures but the second episode really shows the program’s potential. If given the opportunity, the series could soon find its footing. There’s a lot that could be unpacked here and one hopes that the program will be given the chance to build on its first few episodes.
The Company You Keep airs Sunday nights on ABC.
John Hanlon is a film and television critic. This article was published here with his permission. All rights reserved.