Flashback: Sneaky Pete (Pilot)

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A little less intense than some of today's TV, Sneaky Pete creeps onto our screens as a lighter option, without having to compromise on quality or calibre of acting

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It seems that in today’s movie climate, all of the stars are going rogue. From Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders, to Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective (and that’s just season 1), the small screen is becoming a lot bigger. The latest actor to take the plunge into the medium is Giovanni Ribisi. That’s the guy from Friends who played Phoebe’s brother, one of the guys from Saving Private Ryan and the guy from Avatar who nobody liked. He is ‘the guy in that thing you saw with those people once’, and now, finally, he is the guy in his own TV show, one that has been given the go ahead by Amazon Prime.

Sneaky Pete tells the story of the conman Marius (Ribisi), who steals the identity of his cellmate Pete after being released from prison, in order to hide from Vance (Bryan Cranston, sans moustache), an as yet ambiguous figure to whom he owes money. Marius returns to Pete’s grandparents’ house after a hiatus of 20 years to pick up where Pete left off. He cleverly works his way into the family bail bond business, which, to an oblivious English audience, is another funny American tradition that allows companies to pay bail on behalf of clients who they then have to ensure attend court, by any force necessary it seems. Unsurprisingly, Marius uses his skills as a criminal to help his ‘cousin’ Julia (Marin Ireland) locate a particularly nasty client she took on without her grandmother’s knowledge. Their relationship is interesting, the actors complimenting and playing off each other in a similar way to the comedic, yet endearing pairing of Patrick Jane and Lisbon from The Mentalist.

The concept itself is pretty simple, and easily repeated; Marius and Julia can follow up with clients episodically. But it feels quite fresh and original, in part thanks to the compelling performance by the fast and agile Ribisi, who flits effortlessly between Pete, Marius and the spontaneous lies he conjures when needed.

More than anything, it is the cast that makes this pilot stand out. The concept for the show is good, but the cast is great. From the kind rustic grandparents played by Margo Martindale and Peter Gerety, who both look and sound the part, to the rebellious teen Carly (Libe Barer), all of the characters in the show have received a well fleshed out introduction. We leave the pilot feeling that we know a lot more about this unconventional family than we do about our central character, but that just adds to the feeling of longing both Marius and the viewer feel for this slice of small town country life. Yet the benefits are sickly sweet, as Marius starts to become attached to his adopted family, and to a world far from that of his and his brother’s.

It isn’t a simple case of good guy/bad guy teaming up to bring justice to the world; they are trying to bring justice to their family. Expect tests of loyalty for Marius; as it will not be a question of right or wrong, but shades of grey, for a family on the wrong side of the law and an adopted family who enforce their own. However, it is not without a few unsurprising plot twists, that affirm the TV series’ role as not ground-breaking, but dependable and consumer friendly, such as the fact that Pete’s other cousin is a cop (Shane McRae), an overprotective and suspicious grandmother and the hint of an ill-advised romance between Marius and Julia. Marius himself is ambiguous and intriguing, as we never fully meet him before he becomes Pete; by adding a suitably depressing childhood, his position as the complex hero is confirmed. But is this all such a bad thing? Something a little old fashioned. It is lighter and more playful where other shows are rated for what seems to be density and complexity. It doesn’t mean you have drawn the short straw when it comes to acting talent or clever writing; it’s just a different kind of series.

Sneaky Pete is what it is, but it does it very well. It is a show that has been concocted to feed a modern audience who consumes series after series. Yet while the story may be contrived in places, the acting is anything but. If you don’t believe me, or Bryan Cranston (I dare you), it certainly generated enough hype to get the approval of Amazon for a whole season. It’s just another reason to get your free 6-month trial of Amazon Student Prime, if Mr. Robot is not enough of an incentive.

Sneaky Pete is set for a 2016 release on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

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