If you thought Milo Ventimiglia was charming as a PTSD-ridden dad with an alcohol problem on “This Is Us,” wait ’til you get a look at him on ABC’s “The Company You Keep.” He stars in the new drama as Charlie Nicoletti, a con man with a heart of gold, a guy born into a family of criminals who engineer elaborate heists to steal from the uber rich. The Nicolettis are the kinds of thieves for which you can easily fall, which is exactly what happens when Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim) crosses paths with Charlie. They both jokingly tell the truth about their professions. He’s a criminal, she’s CIA, but haha, just kidding, he runs a bar and she works for a logistics company. Their chemistry is immediate, and they quickly whisk each other away for a weekend of hotel room shenanigans. Neither knows the truth about the other, but viewers quickly learn that Emma is after the same organized crime family that Charlie and his family just scammed out of millions of dollars, and their interests are soon going to be quite intertwined.
It feels like an old school set up for a network procedural in the best kind of way. Two beautiful, charming people fall for each other without knowing that each has a big secret, and a big job to do each week. It’s not will they/won’t they, because they already have and continue to do so, but there’s a ticking time bomb in the background. Who will find out the truth first? And will they still have the hots for each other once the secrets are revealed? It’s sad that this premise is almost thrilling in 2023, but maybe TV, just like fashion, is cyclical. Everything old will be new again.
And it’s not like everything in “The Company You Keep” feels old. The magic of it is that there’s so much that feels new, like Emma’s powerful family. She’s sort of the black sheep of an aspiring political dynasty, a family who describes themselves as the Asian American Kennedys. Her brother David (Tim Chiou) is a senator running for reelection, holding the same seat that their father Joseph (James Saito) once held. Their mother Grace (Freda Foh Shen) has big plans for the family, and for her daughter, if Emma would let her make those plans. “The Company You Keep” isn’t reinventing any wheels, but it does manage to be a nice mix of classic TV and a modern perspective that’s a whole lot of fun.
Of the two episodes released ahead of time, the second is stronger and paints a better picture of what the show might look like. The pilot has a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, and it ends up feeling a bit muddled. Episode two finds an easier rhythm and has the chance to show off some of what the series is promising. A heist that goes wrong in the pilot sends the Nicolettis chasing after a quick payday, and ends up requiring Charlie’s dad Leo (William Fichtner) to put on the character of a flamboyant photographer searching for a fancy house for a photoshoot. These cons involve costumes, accents, and quick thinking, and they make for great TV.
Meanwhile, Emma is busy chasing criminals and solving every mystery that comes her way. After she and Charlie spend all day narrowly avoiding each other, they meet up for a hook up. It’s the TV show that has it all, including the shortcomings of the genre. Like every lady cop on TV, she’s cold and distant, and her boyfriend cheated on her because he didn’t feel like she truly loved him. Charlie’s got dreams beyond being a con man, but it’s all he’s known since the day he was born, and he got conned by his own con woman fiancee. Neither of them can ever let anyone else truly know them, but they both feel like they know each other. They’re perfect for each other but can never really show it, and in fact they sometimes have to pretend to not be into each other. Depending on how this secret keeping plays out, that roller coaster could get old fast. Hopefully the show’s got enough tricks up its sleeve to keep things interesting. It certainly has the chemistry.
At the very least, producers Ventimiglia, Phil Klemmer, Julia Cohen, and Jon M. Chu have got source material to turn to. The series is based on a 2019 South Korean show called “My Fellow Citizens!” which is about a con artist who marries a police detective and only learns about her real profession on their wedding day. Charlie and Emma aren’t close to marriage just yet and can barely sustain a public conversation, but they’re unable to keep their hands off of each other in private.
It’s an interesting place to start with a couple, with plenty of interesting and potentially sexy places for them to go from here that can’t follow TV’s usual formula where unlikely colleagues fall in love over the course of three seasons. This time, it’s unlikely lovers becoming something else, and the fact that we don’t know what that something else is is more exciting than network dramas have been in a while.
“The Company You Keep” probably isn’t the next “This Is Us” in terms of massive network hits, but so far, it’s not a bad way to spend an hour each week.
“The Company You Keep” premieres Feb. 19 on ABC at 10 p.m. ET/PT.