By Matthew E. Owen, Contributing Media Critic for SatelliteWerx.com
Viewer comments welcomed. If you’ve seen the show, tell us what you think in the comment section below…
“Sneaky Pete” is the newest hit show on Amazon Video’s streaming service. Created by Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad fame) and David shore, the show had a pretty interesting start up. “Sneaky Pete” was originally pitched as a serialized bounty hunting show intended for CBS. After passing on the project, Amazon slipped in and ran the pilot in August of 2015. Shortly thereafter, Amazon picked up the show and ordered some re-shoots. There’s a significant difference in tone between the pilot and the rest of the show, and I’m incredibly thankful that CBS decided to pass on it. While the serialized idea for “Sneaky Pete” might’ve worked out, the Amazon version is much darker, mature, and all around a better experience. With the show’s recent renewal for Season 2, it’s obvious that “Sneaky Pete” is a decent show. But is truly as good as the majority of critics are saying? Let’s find out.
WATCH VIDEO – Sneaky Pete – Season 1 Official Trailer | Amazon Video
“Sneaky Pete” follows the story of Marius (played by Giovanni Ribisi), a con man who is released from prison. Unfortunately, Marius owes a lot of money to some pretty dangerous people, namely the main antagonist Vince (played by Bryan Cranston). Marius decides to take up his old cellmate’s identity, thus beginning the story of Marius’ con as Pete Murphy. Pete’s family is in the bail bond business, and owns a small farm where most of the family stays. What starts out as a quirky family drama quickly descends into a multifaceted crime thriller.
The story here is one of many threads. Various subplots are focused on throughout the ten episode series, each one dealing with one of Pete’s family members. These subplots range between interesting and completely ineffective, but tie up nicely in the end. It’s a show where most of the screen time is playing towards an eventuality, so you never feel like you’re wasting your time if you don’t care for a specific subplot. However, this can lead to some confusing story telling. The entire show is like the “Inception” of con jobs. There’s cons inside of cons, that give way to even more cons. You can never truly trust a character, as most of the time they turn out to be liars.
The performances here are much like the subplots; ranging from good to bad. Giovanni Ribisi absolutely nails the nervous demeanor of Pete, and it’s interesting to see him shed his false identity from time to time. As the show progresses, the line between the true Marius and the fake Pete start to blur. This was one of my bigger issues with the narrative. Marius is portrayed as a master conman, but quickly becomes attached to the family members. This is even a major point of the show; never get attached to the mark of the con. Despite Marius’ amazing con abilities, he quickly becomes entangled in family matters that he truly shouldn’t bother with.
The supporting cast is where the diversity in range lies. A lot of screen time gets dedicated to each family member, from the seemingly naive grandparents to Pete’s idiotic cop cousin. The grandparents, Otto and Audrey are stand out performances. Peter Gerety’s Otto is a man of thought, but also a man of action. He sits in the background for most of the show, but really starts to shine towards the latter half. This is also true for Audrey, who’s name is brought up the most among the family. She’s essentially the mother bird of the proverbial nest, with her hands in all of her family’s business. Audrey is a character that is meant to be unwavering, smart, and intelligent. Her story line irked me a bit, as he eventual narrative does not align with her character’s intelligence.
The rest of the family is so-so. Pete’s cousins are a grab bag. Julia (played by Marin Ireland) is annoying and uninteresting. I found her screen time to be the most expendable, as most of it deals with her and her separate husband (played by Jacob Pitts). Her story thread pops up quite a bit towards the end of the show, and I truly didn’t feel immersed in it. This is ultimately forgivable, as the overarching story surrounding the subplots is incredibly engaging. Though it falters in importance from time to time, Marius’ plan to pay back his money and rescue his captive brother is a good plot point. It eventually gets lost in the sea of subplots, but is still the strongest part of the show.
Speaking of strong parts, Bryan Cranston as Vince is the absolute stand out of the show. When Cranston is on screen, he demands your attention. There are several scenes where he monologues for minutes at a time, and while this can sound boring, it’s far from it. A specific intimidation speech that occurs in the first half of the season is a standout for me. Regardless, Cranston plays a truly menacing villain, whom is both incredibly dangerous and intelligent. With Season 2 premiering next year, I’m excited to see where his character ends up.
All things told, “Sneaky Pete” is an engaging and immersive show. Although most of my review has highlighted weak performances or less than savory sub plots, it’s because the overwhelming majority of it is so good. This is mainly due to Giovanni Ribisi and Bryan Cranston’s absolute command of the screen. While there are some episodes that I didn’t fully enjoy, there’s a lot to be said for the end product. By the time you’re done with the 10 episode series, you’ll feel intimately involved in Pete’s family and their struggles. You’ll feel as though you’ve grown with the story. It’s a rewarding experience, especially when the con jobs become the focus of the show. This starts to happen towards the end of the series, so hopefully this indicates a higher focus for Season 2. Despite the highs and lows of the first season, “Sneaky Pete” is a show I can recommend quickly. While it’s not a perfect experience, it’s a pretty good time. Some character actions are a bit too stupid to forgive, but beyond that, I can live with the mistakes that are made. Hopefully, Season 2 will be even more action packed and get into the darker side of con jobs. Until then, we can only reflect on the first season. My reflection is pretty simple; “Sneaky Pete” is worth the watch.
WATCH VIDEO – ‘Sneaky Pete’s’ Bryan Cranston, Graham Yost on How an Emmy Speech Became an Amazon Series | The Hollywood Reporter