Network TV continues its love affair with untrue crime with trio of addictive new shows

people in formalwear speak to someone at a table with a computer

Sarah Wayne Callies and Milo Ventimiglia in the pilot episode of the new ABC heist drama “The Company You Keep.”
(Eric McCandless / ABC)

Crime pays, if you’re a television network, and especially if you’re network television, where reckoning with malefactors has a long and rich history and continues to have a dominating presence. On some fundamental level, NBC equals “Law & Order” and whatever else Dick Wolf has going, and CBS is just “NCIS” and a bunch of sitcoms.

There is, among these shows, an unavoidable embrace of the obvious, given just how many thousands — hundreds of thousands — of hours such stories have logged over the years. Many lack “seriousness,” even when they’re dealing with serious things, a weightlessness that helps make them watchable week after week. Problems are solved within an episode, even when longer arcs are attached; it’s character and not cliffhangers that draw you back. Life is messy, they say, but it generally works out — except for the body in the library, of course.

The winter season has added a few new untrue crime stories to the broadcast catalog, pushing some of the same buttons — action, suspense, romance (which is also suspense) and leavening comedy — with various degrees of emphasis, in different aesthetic flavors. Each has its charms, its sticky premise, its attractive, TV-sized cast.


In the likable “The Company You Keep,” an action romance premiering Sunday on ABC and developed by Julia Cohen from the Korean series “My Fellow Citizens!,” Milo Ventimiglia plays Charlie Nicoletti, a con artist from a family of con artists. One night in the bar of a swank hotel, he meets Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), whose politically high-powered family has no idea that she works for the CIA — nor will Charlie in the two episodes out for review. (Nor will she know his line of work, except for the true fact that he owns a bar.) Each is at an emotional low: Charlie and his family have just been ripped off by his girlfriend, who absconded with the $10 million the Nicolettis weaseled out of a pack of Irish mobsters, and Emma has discovered her boyfriend is cheating on her.

But, as expected, they spark something in one another, share confidences. She tells him she’s defined herself in opposition to her family (though, at 35, she’s just moved back in with them); he tells her that he’s defined by his. He’s basically working class, with only a high school diploma; she’s upper crust, with a degree from Stanford. But they both favor the Stones over the Beatles. And, inevitably, they move from the bar to the bedroom and, through the services of montage, into a relationship.

Charlie and Emma are both very good at what they do, and though one might think, having seen this sort of set-up before, that Charlie and his kin will be enlisted, or extorted, by Emma into using their powers for good, that has yet to happen. Though the tracks they’re on are bound to intersect sometime in the season, for the moment it’s a cat-and-mouse game neither is aware they’re playing.

a man in a hallway points a gun, with police in the background pointing theirs

Ramón Rodríguez stars in ABC’s latest police procedural, “Will Trent.”
(Danny Delgado / ABC)

At the same time, and as in most shows in which criminals serve as heroes, the Nicolettis’ victims are worse criminals or just worse people — sociopathic, violent or simply entitled. (You can’t cheat an honest man, sayeth the philosopher.) What’s more, the family — Sarah Wayne Callies is Charlie’s big sister and Polly Draper and William Fichtner are his parents — was about to give it all up, and it’s only that their latest caper has gone awry that keeps them reluctantly in the game. (The Irish mobsters want their money back and they don’t play around; Felisha Terrell plays their icy representative.)

Airing since January (and also streaming on Hulu) is ABC’s delightful “Will Trent,” adapted by Liz Heldens and Daniel T. Thomsen from the novels of Karin Slaughter, with Ramón Rodríguez as the eponymous agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Will is out of the school of eccentric detectives, with a complicated background, having grown up in the foster care system and with a case of dyslexia that’s rendered him functionally illiterate — but given him compensatory super powers of perception. He can read a crime scene like you’re reading this sentence.

On top of his lone-wolf tendencies — he doesn’t want another chair in his office because someone might come in and sit on it — he is also persona non grata among the Atlanta police for his part in bringing down some corrupt officers, including the mother of new partner Faith (Iantha Richardson). Meanwhile, he’s in a long-term intermittent relationship with homicide detective Angie (Erika Christensen), whom he’s known since they were in the same group home. Angie is also problematically newly partnered, with Mike (Jake McLaughlin), a married detective with whom she once had a drunken one-night stand; now she’s in recovery and serious about it.

As Will, who is compulsively attached to three-piece suits, Rodríguez is elegantly deadpan, but not humorless — indeed, it’s a basically funny show that moves to dark places — and while literally buttoned up, he finds space to relax, with Christensen, who is especially soulful, and Betty, who is a chihuahua.

Also airing since January (and available to stream on Hulu as well) is Fox’s “Alert: Missing Persons Unit,” whose colon-split title echoes that of the “CSI:” and “NCIS:” franchises, as well as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” A fairly straight procedural, with a more-than-usual emphasis on the domestic relations and entanglements of its detective heroes, it’s at once the most conventional and the most outlandish of these shows. Created by John Eisendrath and Jamie Foxx and set in the titular missing persons squad of the Philadelphia PD, the series stars Scott Caan as Jason, formerly married to and working again alongside Nikki (Dania Ramirez), who is now involved with fellow detective Mike (Ryan Broussard).

A man at a computer while two people stand behind him
Dania Ramirez, Scott Caan and guest star Petey Gibson in Fox’s police procedural “Alert: Missing Persons Unit.”
(Philippe Bosse)

Jason and Nikki’s marriage broke up after their son was snatched years before, but now Keith (Graham Verchere) has returned, as mysteriously as he disappeared — or is it Keith? Daughter Sidney (Fivel Stewart) isn’t so sure, and we’re given reasons to believe her. With Keith’s apparent return, Jason moves back in temporarily with Nikki (the ex-spouses are friendly and, as is so often the case with TV’s law enforcement professionals, the house is big), which prompts Mike to jealousy, no matter how much Nikki reassures him there’s nothing to worry about, or their dipping into a storeroom for a quick workplace sexual interlude. Still, dudes, you know — they can be competitive.

The family at work notably includes Adeola Role as Kemi, whose fantastical command of computers either contrasts with or complements her nonchalant recital of past lives and the various spiritual practices, including rituals with eggs and limes and candles, she inflicts on worried parents and spouses. It’s a weird concept, but Role, who has screen presence to spare, manages to sell it.

The challenge in the show is to entertain a wide variety of reasons a person might go missing — and nothing as simple as a kidnapping for ransom, a runaway or a child snatched by a divorced spouse. And so there is an emphasis on complicated arrangements and psychoses. (Real-world nods include a Jeffrey Epstein sort whose dropping the name Elon Musk certifies him as a creep.) Most episodes heavily involve ticking-clock tension and guns-drawn action, with the occasional ethical or professional debate among our variously tempered heroes.

Although by some snooty reckoning, such series are less than what you’ll find on premium platforms, and if you do not ask them to be other than they are, can enjoy a little nonsense and tolerate a plot hole or two, they will fill an hour, and possibly many weeks of them, quite nicely.

‘The Company You Keep’

Where: ABC

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Streaming: Hulu

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

‘Will Trent’

Where: ABC

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday

Streaming: Hulu

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

‘Alert: Missing Persons Unit’

Where: Fox

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Streaming: Hulu

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)