Amazon Fire TV has this great feature called “X-Ray” where, when you pause a movie or show, the pause screen automatically shows you the characters in the scene and the actors that play them. It’ll also show you the name of the song and album playing in the scene (if there is one).
Here’s what it looks like:
And that’s how I found out the name of Margot Martindale. She’s like the female Zeljko Ivanek …
…someone who, when I see them on screen, puts me at ease. Someone who has been around forever and knows all the tricks of delivering a note-perfect performance. My brain just relaxes and I can sit back and enjoy because I know that there’s a professional driving the bus. Is Margot Martindale ever anything but fantastic?
But let’s stay on point. Sneaky Pete. Is it worth watching? Short answer? Yes. Long answer: Yes, probably.
Sneaky Pete follows the story of ‘Marius,’ a confidence man, played by Giovanni Ribisi, who is in the final days of his incarceration. He finds out that the man he stole from has decided to have him whacked when he hits the street, so he has to think of an alternate plan quickly.
Thinking of a plan quickly is Marius’ superpower. He’s been stuck listening to his cellmate, Pete, blather on about the minutia of his younger life ad nauseum. Pete describes his home and his grandparents and every little detail. He hasn’t seen or spoken to anyone in his family for about 20 years. In fact, he prattles on so much that Marius feels like he knows every detail if it. And … wait a second … could he pull it off? Could he become the loquacious Pete?
That’s what he does. Marius becomes Pete. Hence, Sneaky Pete.
Hi, grandma, grandpa! It’s me, the dude you haven’t seen in like 20 years. “Pete.”
And upon that scintillating premise the entire show rests. I don’t much care for the premise itself, to be honest. It’s the same concept behind 1993’s Sommersby, starring Jodi Foster and Richard Gere as a civil war soldier that takes the place of his cellmate.
I had a hard time with the concept then: namely that people wouldn’t smell a rat. This iteration is no different, but the showrunners are cagey enough to know that, and they make sure not everyone just jumps into the deep end of the pool. When Audrey, the grandmother, played by Martindale, goes out to the barn to fetch some eggs, she says she has to get them that night or “there’s a fox that will.” Then she complains out loud about the fox.
It’s a not very subtle hook thrown in right at the end of the 48 minute long pilot. It was developed at CBS, which passed on it in May. In June, it was snapped up by an Amazon streaming service looking to fill out its roster. Whether we get more episodes seems to be up in the air, but based on the pilot alone, I hope we do.
Sneaky Pete is watertight, primarily. Whether you’re a fan of the concept or not, the acting, writing and directing are all sort of unassailable. Ribisi is rock solid, and has some actual chemistry with his not-really-his-cousin cousin, Julia, played by Malin Ireland.
This show has a possible fan base with people who like Shameless because in the way that that show accurately describes what it’s like to be truly broke, Sneaky Pete really attempts to drive home the fact that Ribisi’s Marius has never known what it’s like to have a family. So much so that his own brother (unknowingly, but still) is in on the plan to have him snuffed.
It’s no wonder Marius is always using his make-it-up-as-you-go superpower, shown with quick inserts of books and items and photographs, to insulate himself. The question is whether or not he’ll betray his new ‘family’ or get his first taste of what it feels like to actually belong somewhere.
It’s a solid, well done pilot, which is a trick in this day and age where so many shows seem to get that wrong. The show gets an artificial bump from a supporting role for The Wire’s Domenick Lombardozzi
…and from executive producer Bryan Cranston, who plays the part of Vance, the mob boss Marius stole from.
God it was so nice to see Cranston again, even for the extremely short time he’s on screen in the pilot. He’s just captivating.
I could nitpick here and there, but the directing of Seth Gordon is tight, the script by David Shore handles the hail mary premise as well as can be expected and people talk, y’know, the way people actually talk. Not like the way some people pretend people talk.
I hope the series gets picked up by Amazon in its entirety. Not just because I would have immediately started the second episode if it was available, but because I’ll take any amount of Cranston in my television watching, no matter how small.
And for you commitmentphobes out there who are struggling with too many shows to watch? It’s only one episode (right now). There’s not a lot of room to get your heart broken.