The Company You Keep Review: Milo Ventimiglia Heist Drama Champagne

The This Is Us star follows up the hit NBC series with an overstuffed hybrid that can’t generate much heat with the family of chefs working in the kitchen.

Before “This Is Us,” Milo Ventimiglia’s lead roles were monotonous. There’s Jess Mariano, the troubled young rebel on “Gilmore Girls”; Peter Petrelli, a tortured nurse who struggles to control his powers in “Heroes”; Robert Balboa, Rocky’s son (in “Rocky Balboa” and later in “Creed II”), trapped in his father’s shadow, even if he doesn’t know who he is without him. Ventimiglia’s specialty was playing the confused bad guy with a good heart, and whether it was a woman (as Rory), a calling (as Hiro), or a father (as Rocky), he only needed one thing to go well with the rest. out of his life. In other words, he was the guy that someone looked at and thought, “I can fix that”—and they were usually right. (Hell, Jess did a great job and did just that pine for Rory.)

Then came “This Is Us”. Jack Pearson wasn’t a kid trying to put the pieces together; he was a super dad; a father etched into his children’s minds from the second he died in that tragic potty accident until his offspring continue to become parents. Sure, Jack had his faults (alcoholism, drunken father, questionable facial hair), but they only treated him with his family, just as he was loved by tens of millions of viewers at home.

But even after Ventimiglia made the leap from drifting adolescent to confident adult, one unifying factor remained: seriousness. Jess might have been a jerk in high school, but he was serious about Rory—he just didn’t always know how to express it. Peter also approached his tasks with purpose, and you know that Rocky Balboa’s kid gave it his all. Jack did the same. Even when she wasn’t giving a life-changing speech or sacrificing herself for the family dog/photo album, she made every moment count, from pool days to game night. Those were the times that mattered, the times worth remembering, and Jack treasured them all.

All of which is to say that Milo Ventimiglia isn’t the first person who comes to mind when you think of a rogue. Yes, he appeared in two episodes of “Con Man” — Alan Tudyk’s meta 2015 web series about a sci-fi star clinging to fame — but the “con” in the title meant “conventions” (and Ventimiglia was just himself played). . Honesty can help sell a scam, but as long as the audience is in on the gambit, sooner or later they’re bound to see what a good liar the con can be. There’s usually a smile that’s as reassuring as it is telling (a la Danny Ocean), or a satisfied laugh after a job well done (few better than Paul Newman). Crooks live for the con, so they tend to take pride in crossing off their well-deserved tickets.

Which brings us to “The Company You Keep,” Ventimiglia’s hybrid heist-family drama from ABC, in which he plays Charlie, a slick but small-time con artist working on his biggest musical yet. To most people, Charlie is just a bartender at a Seattle dive. But to the audience, he is a silver-tongued, multi-faceted man – pickpocket, schemer and loyal partner in crime. The latter descriptor suits Ventimiglia as well as Charlie’s unique tuxedo, and his charlatan’s physical abilities are quite good. But there is no sparkle in his eyes; he’s not having fun while he’s robbing the rich and the disreputable – certainly not enough to justify devoting his life to this work, as he apparently has for 40 years. Parts of Charlie are perfect for Ventimiglia — his loyalty to family and friends, his blue-collar cover story, his passion for new flames — but “The Company You Keep” asks too much of the protagonist and tries to do too much. a lot of yourself.

You see, Charlie is not just a crook. One quarter of a rogue family. His mother Fran (Polly Draper) and father Leo (William Fichtner) are career criminals and have raised their two children to follow in their footsteps. Charlie is the face of most capers, and his sister Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies) runs the opera behind the scenes. Heck, when we first meet the Nicoletti family, Charlie’s fiance is a member of the crew – before betraying them, leaving Charlie and running off with the $10 million score.

His exit opens up the already crowded family heist series to a third genre: romance. After losing his future wife, Charlie has a chance encounter with Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) and if you couldn’t tell, sparks fly. Emma just caught her boyfriend in bed with another woman, so she’s especially susceptible to a little ex-bagging and lots of booze. But what appears to be a mutual rebound soon turns out to be something more. They like each other. They share the relationship. The timing may be bad, but for better or worse, they have to see this relationship through.

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP — “Pilot” — A night of passion leads to love between con man Charlie and undercover CIA officer Emma, ​​who unbeknownst to them in “The Company You Keep” SERIES PREMIERE FEB.  .  19 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on ABC.  (ABC/Scott Everett White) WILLIAM FICHTNER

William Fichtner in “The Company You Keep.”

Courtesy of ABC / Scott Everett White

Too bad for the horny couple, the “worse” seems inevitable. Emma works as a data analyst for a logistics company – or so she tells everyone, because they usually frown upon saying, “Hello, stranger. I work for the CIA!” His family doesn’t even know what he’s really doing, despite his brother running for the United States Senate to succeed Priests, who recently retired from his now-open seat. While the Hills aren’t exactly happy about Emma not having a husband, you can be sure that they won’t interfere with her career as long as her brother has her eyes on her.

Charlie doesn’t ask too many questions either, having been lulled to sleep by his purposefully boring explanations, but hosts Julia Cohen and Phil Klemmer wisely emphasize that neither wants to talk about work. They see each other as an escape from work, family, and the general stress of their dangerous professional lives. Their attraction, while never quite as electric as the plot would have you believe, functionally connects the two halves of the show: Charlie’s heist-driven half and Emma’s crime-solving half. But then these parties are divided into many smaller parts, where Charlie takes care of his family, Emma takes care of hers, Charlie goes to work, Emma follows them closely, and the further storylines flow from there.

Their ongoing romance and family drama are sandwiched between episodes built around the heists of the week, making the first two hours feel overloaded but unsurprising. Perhaps it’s better for a broadcast series that depends on the charisma of its two stars to keep its options open, hoping that some dynamics work better than others and that the dead weight can be reduced as the season progresses.

Still, “The Company You Keep” may not get there. Emma and Charlie’s simple relationships don’t set the screen on fire. They suggest far more heat than they realize, and what glimpses are blocked and recorded too awkwardly to revive Hollywood. wild sex life. Ace-in-the-hole supporting stars like Fichtner and Callies don’t have enough time to make a lasting impact, and the consistent presence of parents and siblings serves as a cold shower against the flickering flames. There are occasional flashes of wit, giving some hope to a light-hearted original that needs more attitude, but the series is too close to the straight-laced star.

While you can see Ventimiglia trying to expand his range after his biggest role to date, “The Company You Keep” actually ties him more to the duties of a family patriarch without encouraging playfulness, villainy, or anything but serious. The heist is even more fun with a winking villain in the lead, and Ventimiglia’s bad-guy alter egos are stuck in the past.

grade: C

“The Company You Keep” premieres Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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