Driven by the handclap beat of Dead Man’s Bones’ “Lose Your Soul,” The Company You Keep’s opening sequence sees con artist extraordinary Charlie Nicoletti (Milo Ventimiglia) and his family on a job involving the Irish mafia, millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency and some unconvincing FBI disguises. This driving, deeply goofy intro tells you everything you really need to know about ABC’s new crime trick.
Charlie’s parents, veteran grifters Leo (William Fichtner) and Fran (Polly Draper), rely on old-fashioned charm and dexterity to achieve their goals, while his sister Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies) runs the technical side of the family’s operation. When not pulling tricks, the Nicolettis can be found at their Baltimore bar, sipping beers and arguing about their next score. They use jargon that is initially unexplained, such as “using Milo,” which we eventually learn refers to Leo’s disguise as a flamboyant photographer with a heavy European accent.
This will all likely sound very familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a heist movie, but the Nicoletti clan has a lively charm that manages to breathe some life into even the show’s most played hoaxes. Hacking into security systems or forging fake fingerprints to break into safes doesn’t seem to be a problem for a bunch of worker criminals. In fact, one gets the feeling from the two episodes that have been made available for review that they can conjure up any ability or gear the next job might require, like Batman plucking gadgets from his utility belt.
Simply put, realism isn’t exactly on the agenda in The Company You Keep. And any moral complexities are quickly thrown out the window when we discover that the Nicolettis only target real villains. These aren’t complicated anti-heroes navigating the gray areas of an imperfect world, but Robin Hoods targeting corrupt pastors and drug lords.
Which works well for the portion of the series that’s a crime-of-the-week caper full of family banter, but less so for the portion that considers itself a hot romance. While recovering from a recent heartbreak, Charlie meets Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), a sharp-eyed woman who can read people so well she can spot a con artist by his tan lines. Little does he know that Emma is actually an exposed CIA agent and has no idea that he’s the one who just ripped off the crime syndicate that was trying to take her down. They hit it off and spend the night together, enchanted by each other’s talent for deception. Since they both lie professionally, her pure, uncomplicated attraction suddenly feels like the only honest thing in her life.
Their game is a game of cat and mouse, with Charlie and Emma always on the verge of discovering each other’s true identities, while the mob plot ways to fight back against both of them. Their sultry meeting at a high-end hotel is reminiscent of Out of Sight, even if Ventimiglia and Kim don’t benefit from the same quality of material as George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. Clichés and cheesy lines come fast and thick in the show’s opening episodes, with both actors doing their best to charm each other through some very uninspired bits. Ventimiglia even manages to make a pick-up line over a theremin sound semi-sexy.
Despite Ventimiglia and Kim’s best efforts, the show, which insists on avoiding moral ambiguity in its storylines, takes some of the danger out of Charlie and Emma’s liaison. A robber-robber romance can be an intricate dance where lovers walk the line between right and wrong. When done well, we become more sympathetic to how each person sees the world and begin to wonder where that line really is. When done really well, the idea of right and wrong feels a lot less important than them coming together.
The Company You Keep eschews that opportunity for suspense or real spark in favor of a simple good versus evil story and simple likeability. A crime series that vehemently refuses to get its hands dirty, it can’t help but come across as a photocopy of better movies and TV shows.
Cast: Milo Ventimiglia, Catherine Haena Kim, Polly Draper, Sarah Wayne Callies, William Fichtner Network: ABC