Milo Ventimiglia’s charming con man drives new ABC caper dramedy

Kudos to Milo Ventimiglia for smoothly switching gears from angst-ridden Jack Pearson to con artist Charlie Nicoletti in his new ABC romantic dramedy “The Company You Keep.”

The series, premiering Feb. 19 at 10 p.m., frees Ventimiglia to unbuckle Jack’s suffocating, overwrought “This Is Us” straitjacket and breathe — and he exhales with an easygoing, charming performance (sans the bad Jack Pearson mustache) in a series pulsating with a “Moonlighting”-type vibe, albeit with a radically different plotline.

Here’s the setup: Charlie Nicoletti and his family — mom Fran (Polly Draper), dad Leo (William Fichtner) and big sister Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies) — own a bar in Baltimore and lead double-lives as criminals pulling off high-end heists (one of which landed Charlie in the slammer). They work together with guile, high-tech equipment, disguises, alter-egos — the works — but their latest scam, stealing $10 million from an Irish crime syndicate, goes awry when Charlie’s ostensible fiancee grabs the cash for herself and vanishes without a trace. Call it the Big Kiss-off.

Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) and Charlie (Milo Ventimiglia) in a scene from "The Company You Keep." She's wearing a fancy gown and he's dressed in a tuxedo.
Emma (Catherine Haena Kim) and Charlie (Milo Ventimiglia) in a scene from “The Company You Keep,” premiering Feb. 19 on ABC.

Photo of Milo Ventimiglia and Sarah Wayne Callies as Charlie and Birdie. He's wearing a tuxedo and she's wearing an evening gown and big black-rimmed glasses.
Charlie with his big sister — and partner-in-crime — Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callies).

Charlie goes to a bar to drown his sorrows and meets Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), an undercover CIA agent posing as a data analyst at a “logistics firm.” She, too, is in the throes of a romance gone sour after dumping her cheating boyfriend. Charlie tells Emma he’s a yoga instructor; she tells him she’s an ex-beauty pageant contestant-turned-NASA rocket scientist. Like that. They get drunk, spend the night together (chastely) and discover they have feelings for each other despite that one small glitch about their real identities.

Enter Daphne Finch (Felisha Terrell), the Irish syndicate’s Ivy League-educated “consultant” who shows up at the Nicolettis’ bar demanding they fork over $15 million to free her boss from prison … or else. The icing on the cake? Emma is working with the FBI to bring down that same syndicate (which brokers in fentanyl) — setting up an unwitting cat-and-mouse game between she and Charlie as their alter-egos romance takes a turn for the hot-and-heavier.

Emma and Charlie meet for the first time in a bar in the premiere of "The Company You Keep."
Emma and Charlie meet for the first time in the premiere of “The Company You Keep.”

That’s all in the series opener. In Episode 2 — featuring another heist, more footsie between Emma and Charlie and more threats from Daphne — we learn a bit more about everyone, including one surprising revelation concerning a main character. Once the exposition is out of the way, “The Company You Keep” glides along at a pleasant, breezy pace, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Charlie and Emma to make a go of it despite, well, everything else. There’s nice on-screen chemistry between Ventimiglia and the Queens-born Kim (“Ballers,” “FBI,” “Good Trouble”), and solid support from an excellent cast of seasoned TV pros in Draper (“thirtysomething”), Fichtner (“Mom”) and Callies (“The Walking Dead”), who, like Fitchner, co-starred on Fox’s “Prison Break.”

“The Company You Keep” is the type of pleasant, late-season diversion that doesn’t take itself too seriously, mixing action with a touch of whimsy. It should make a solid addition to ABC’s Sunday-night lineup.

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