Oh, baby. I think ABC has another hit on its hands, and it comes in the form of another sudsy primetime drama with the venerable Milo Ventimiglia as the head of the ship.
The Company You Keep is like a fascinating twist on Romeo and Juliet, which, as we know, saw the children of two feuding families falling in love. Here, these families aren’t feuding (yet), but their children are undoubtedly embarking on a clandestine relationship that has all the makings for a tragic end.
But let’s not worry about the ending right now, when things are just beginning, and everything is oh, so sweet. Instead, let’s dive into The Company You Keep Season 1 Episode 1, a pilot that makes a strong case for this series to be the latest addition to your must-watch list.
While The Company You Keep has a lovely, robust cast, all eyes will immediately be on Milo Ventimiglia, whose Charlie Nicoletti is nothing like his former role, the dad of all dads, Jack Pearson, on This is Us.
Ventimiglia is a fabulous actor and a perfect lead, giving Charlie all the charm in the world to make you believe he’s a master con man. A family man, but a con man, nonetheless.
And at the heart of matters, this is a show about crime, though you might not realize that going by the promotional push.
The pilot hinges on whether or not you find the central pairing appealing because even though there’s a whole con to work through, and copious levels of deception, the relationship between Charlie and Emma is paramount to making this whole thing work.
Charlie and Emma meet right after their respective romances end on truly terrible notes and bond over many cocktails and a copious amount of lies.
While Ventimiglia may be more of a household name, Catherine Haena Kim more than holds her own as his romantic counterpart Emma, who has a beautiful on-screen presence.
Where Charlie is close with his family, you can tell from a quick conversation with Emma’s mom and an awkward family moment that Emma’s relationship with her family may be a bit more exasperated than fond.
It doesn’t take long to see why these two were cast for these roles, as the chemistry speaks for itself. It’s effortless and sexy in a way we don’t always get to see on broadcast television, and the series leans into their connection, which is a good thing because it’s the best part of the pilot.
The series employs a perfect montage of these two going off-grid for 36 hours, existing only with each other in a likely overpriced oasis where they can just be two people unburdened by the complications of their lives. And even though we’re aware these two are on a collision course, you want to root for them.
Charlie and Emma do everything during those hours but tell each other the truth, and it’s relatable, even if not realistic.
Fantasy is one thing, Charlie. Reality is another.
I’m sure we all dream of a day when we can be anyone we want and live the kind of life we’d love to live, completely unapologetically. But the key word there is dream because it’s not real. Eventually, you have to close the door to the penthouse suite, get into your truck, and amble your way back to your everyday life.
For Charlie and Emma, their lives are the complete opposite. While it will most likely be some time before the two find themselves on opposing sides of the law, you start to wonder as the hour winds down whether or not it will matter because these two are well on their way to falling in love.
Slow burn? This series has never heard of it, as both parties seem willing to throw all caution to the wind when starting a relationship. Sure, they spent a lot of time lying to one another, but they know each other’s classic rock band preferences, which appears to be enough to get them locking lips again after a minor bit of angst at a fancy gala.
But their roads are destined to converge as Charlie finds himself working for the very woman Emma will be in hot pursuit of because, of course, that’s where this tale was always going.
Charlie: That was a lot of mustard on that sandwich, Pop.
Leo: Come on. I’ve gotta commit to sell it.
Charlie: I think you oversold it.
The opening scene of the series is meant to show us a few things, but mainly introduce us to the Nicoletti family and set the stage for the big con gone wrong that will have them atoning for their sins through at least this first season.
The plot is giving Ocean’s 12. Remember that hidden gem? It’s the one where the ragtag group must come back together to pay back the money they stole in the original flick, all while in a picturesque European city.
Well, the backdrop here is Baltimore, and the group is much smaller, but the Nicoletti’s prove throughout the first hour that they can pull off the big score when necessary.
The Pastor Earl con comes about very quickly as a means to make some quick cash and for Charlie to assuage his guilt about letting his love life ruin things for his family.
And it’s during this con we get to see the most from the Nicolleti’s and what they each bring to the table.
Leo and Fran seem very in love and very much seasoned veterans of the criminal game.
They know how to work a scene and do their jobs effectively. It’s nothing for them to slip into a character and sell the hell out of it.
Meanwhile, Birdie is the glue that holds it all together, and her sibling dynamic with Charlie is one of the hour’s highlights.
Where Charlie is the unmistakable face of things, Birdie is his right-hand woman and the techie of the group. Without Birdie, it’s safe to say the high-tech aspects of their operation would be in serious jeopardy.
There’s a much bigger story surrounding the Nicoletti’s, and they tease just enough in the pilot to get you asking some serious questions about their past and their future as a cohesive criminal family.
There always seems to be that one big score that will set everyone up for life that always goes bad and leaves everyone floundering.
Except here, the family is able to get a nice hefty chunk of that money back, but when it comes time to call it quits, no one is actually willing to walk away.
Leo is suffering from memory loss, but he’s not letting that stop him right now, though you have to imagine that it will become a major issue down the line.
It also sounds like Charlie may have spent some time behind bars at some point, perhaps taking the fall so his family wouldn’t, and though he seems okay about it, there could be some lingering feelings there. You don’t do hard time and not come out feeling somewhat jaded.
The Nicoletti’s seem like a very devoted family, but now that their backs are against the wall, it’s easy to see past wounds and old demons resurfacing.
Daphne’s arrival means they’ll now be working for someone else and playing by a new set of rules. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare and what kind of plans they make to get out from underneath someone else’s thumb. Could this be the thing that brings their family closer together or drive them further apart?
And we’ve got the ever-looming worry about what happens when Emma and Charlie’s relationship stops being nice and starts getting real.
The pilot sets up a genuinely intriguing premise and delivers on the flirty, sexy vibe of the trailers. But now it’s time to sustain that level of interest, and if the pilot is anything to go by, we should be in for something special this season.
The Notes I Kept
- The first shot is of Charlie doing a neat little card trick, and if we don’t get to see a casino con at some point, I will be devastated.
- I appreciate a good dramedy, and the series does a great job of mixing humor into things in a way that doesn’t take away from the serious subject matter and the tone of the hour.
- Ollie is adorable, and I’m curious how much they shield her from the criminal parts of their family. Of all the characters introduced in the hour, I walked away most curious about Birdie and Ollie.
- How did Charlie find out where Emma lived? It’s hard to imagine she gave up her address so willy-nilly, but then again, he’s a master thief, so this is probably a stupid question to ask.
When you think of a good con man, you think of someone unrecognizable.
You need a forgettable face to weave in and out of situations without drawing much attention. Charlie is devilishly handsome, but he’s so slick and everyday man-ish that he makes it work. Plus, he has that man bun when he really needs to switch things up.
Charlie and Emma were upset about their respective relationships ending, but they were not THAT upset.
I think they both knew deep down they weren’t the ones for them, and it makes their willingness to engage with one another so quickly feel earned because it feels less rebound and more once in a lifetime connection.
The Company You Keep comes in very hot, and it’s a fun time. If there’s one thing to criticize, it’s that the hour isn’t longer, and we don’t get to spend more time with all the new characters this show introduces to us.
We still have to get to know the Hill’s and immerse ourselves further into the Nicoletti family. Luckily for us, there’s much more to come.
I want to know all your thoughts about the pilot and what you’re looking forward to seeing from the rest of the season!
So, please drop into the comment section with your thoughts and surprise! You can watch The Company You Keep online via TV Fanatic anytime your heart desires!
Whitney Evans is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.