‘The Company You Keep’: Milo Ventimiglia lightens up on a slick, breezy con-artist series

On ABC’s fast-paced show, ‘This Is Us’ star switches to action as a working-class crook from a family of grifters.

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“The Company You Keep” stars Milo Ventimiglia and Catherine Haena Kim.

Neither of the two new lovers in “The Company You Keep” knows the other’s true identity: Charlie (Milo Ventimiglia) is a con man indebted to a crime syndicate, and Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) is a CIA agent investigating the syndicate.

ABC

One can certainly understand why Milo Ventimiglia might have been looking to hit some lighter notes after the heavy dramatic lifting of “This Is Us.”

And he’s found just that vehicle in the ABC rom-com action series “The Company You Keep,” a slick and fast-paced offering about a working-class con man who could have been friends with the Casey Affleck and Scott Caan characters from the “Oceans” movies. He’ll crack wise even as he’s trying to crack a safe.

This is the kind of breezy, not entirely plausible series in which the stakes can sometimes be as high as possible, with lives on the line. But we get just as many scenes played primarily for laughs, for example when Ventimiglia’s Charlie enlists the help of a dog to steal a valuable necklace out from under the noses of a wealthy couple who actually deserve to be robbed.

When a movie or a TV series features a character named “Charlie,” odds are it’s not to be taken too seriously: “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Charlie Kelly in “It’s Always Sunny...” and, of course, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.”

Based on the South Korean series “My Fellow Citizens!” and developed by Julia Cohen and Phil Klemmer for American television, “The Company You Keep” has Ventimiglia effortlessly easing into that role of a smooth and improvisation-minded con man. Charlie comes from a family of mid-level grifters, including his father Leo (William Fichtner) and mother Fran (Polly Draper) and his older sister Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies), a single mother with a deaf daughter, Ollie (Shaylee Mansfield, a young deaf actor who is instantly endearing in the role), who already is starting to pick up some of the family’s skill set. She can lift your wallet in a split second.

‘The Company You Keep’

The Company You Keep

9 p.m. Sundays on WLS-Channel 7 and streaming on Hulu.

You’ve never seen a more likable, warmer, loving family of con artists. They run a cozy, charmingly well-worn pub in Baltimore. They dote on Ollie. And Charlie and Birdie are forever rolling their eyes at their parents, who still act like honeymooners after all these years. They’re all so … NICE.

Even their sting operations are aimed at deserving targets, or so they tell themselves. (We know things haven’t always gone so smoothly because Charlie “went away” for a while, presumably taking the heat off the rest of the family.)

When they decide to step up their game and go for the obligatory One Last Score, it backfires in spectacular fashion, leaving them $15 million in debt to one Daphne Finch (Felisha Terrell), the icy and ruthless and brilliant consultant/fixer for an Irish syndicate that you do not want to cross. It’s going to take some doing — and a number of future episodes — for Charlie and his family to pull off enough scores to erase that marker.

In the pilot episode, Charlie is soaking his sorrows in an upscale hotel bar when he meets one Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), an undercover CIA agent. He tells her he’s a yoga instructor. She says she’s a pageant queen turned rocket scientist. Glasses clink, sparks fly, banter is to be had, and Charlie and Emma spend the next couple of days lost in each other’s … arms.

What we know, but they DON’T know, is that Emma has teamed up with the FBI to take down the same syndicate that is blackmailing Charlie and his family. (We’ve seen similar storylines on ABC’s “Big Sky” and the Paramount+ series “Tulsa King,” with law enforcement and lawbreakers getting tangled up in sheets before either party realizes what the other is truly up to.)

Ventimiglia and Kim are electric together, following in the long television tradition of two exceedingly attractive people who are very good at their high-risk, big-thrill jobs and naturally are drawn to one another.

It’s also nice to see the older-couple romance play out between William Fichtner and Polly Draper, two of our most reliable actors. (Sarah Wayne Callies’ Birdie isn’t given enough to do in the first couple of episodes, but one assumes she’ll be given some substantial storylines along the way.)

With the obligatory techno-score accompanying the action and lots of glossy, smoothly edited sequences involving the use of high-tech gadgetry during heists, various family members donning disguises and taking on false identities, “The Company You Keep” isn’t trying to break new ground. But it achieves its purpose as escapist Sunday night fare.

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