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TV Tonight: "The Company"

TV Tonight: "The Company"

Here's the bad news: I didn't love the first installment of TNT's "The Company" the way I expected to. The two-hour segment, which airs tonight, seemed a bit jumbled, covering a lot of ground without a good hook to pull me in. The good news is that there was enough compelling content in the first episode that I'm still planning to check out the other two.

Broadly speaking, "The Company" tells the story of the CIA in the Cold War. More specifically, it focuses on two friends (played by Chris O'Donnell and Alessandro Nivola) who are recruited from Yale into the CIA, a third friend (Rory Cochrane) who ends up working for the KGB, and an American intelligence expert's quest to uncover a KGB spy within the CIA.

The book by Robert Littell on which the series is based weighs in at almost 900 pages, so I suppose it's no surprise that the miniseries (which will air in three two-hour segments) also plows through a lot of material. But what did surprise me was how disorganized the whole thing felt, so to hear more about that and see a video of Chris O'Donnell talking about his role,

The screener copy of "The Company" that I received came with a poster-sized chart of who's who, breaking down which characters work for the CIA, which work for the KGB or other intelligence agencies, and which are (or at least appear to be) civilians. And thank goodness; part of the idea of "The Company" is that you don't know who's really working for which agency, but I thought the first two hours contained too many characters with too little context.

Beyond that, "The Company" doesn't seem to have a coherent identity thus far. Is it a story of three college friends who end up working on opposing sides of the Cold War intelligence effort? Or is it a story of one man's lifelong quest to track down the KGB's mole within the CIA? I also had to roll my eyes at the "love story" portion of events; those who fall in love seem to do so in about 10 seconds, and of course all of the main characters' relationships are with people who could jeopardize their jobs and their lives. (One of those women, a ballerina who seems to do nothing but dance 24/7, is particularly grating.)

The first hour certainly had its good points, though. I mentioned I'm a sucker for spy stories, and there's some great code-cracking, phone-tapping and allegiance-switching here. Alfred Molina delivers a strong performance as a CIA agent nicknamed "The Sorcerer" who mentors O'Donnell's character and thrives on the danger of his job. And I hope Cochrane gets more screen time in future installments; his character, a conflicted Russian-born, American-bred spy, has more depth than anyone else so far. Overall, "The Company" looks to be a mixed bag — but fellow fans of spy stories still might find it worth a try.


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