THE SERIES “Sneaky Pete”
WHEN | WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Marius (Giovanni Ribisi) is a con man who gets out of jail, only to find the gangster he owes $100,000 still looking for the money. This bad guy, Vince (Bryan Cranston), has ways and means, notably a threat to cut off each finger of Marius’ brother Eddie (Michael Drayer) until he pays up. But first, Marius needs to hide and does — with the grandparents of his cellmate Pete, who is still in jail. Marius assumes Pete’s name, identity and past, and goes to Connecticut to live with his new family — grandpa Otto (Peter Gerety) and grandma Audrey (Margo Martindale). Even cousins Julia (Marin Ireland) and Taylor (Shane McRae) are fooled, because none of them have seen Pete in 20 years. Oh, and his new family are bail bondsmen. This 10-episode series was co-created by Cranston.
MY SAY “Sneaky Pete” was originally developed as a CBS procedural, which is some kind of hilarious. Nothing about this Amazon newcomer — which launched last week — says “procedural” or “CBS.” Nothing. There’s not nearly enough violence, not enough guns, and hardly any sex. It’s too low-key, too subtle, too understated. Amazon’s the perfect place for “Pete” — a modest caper still finding a rhythm after that initial flirtation with a big, commercial network. “Pete” needs time. Amazon has all the time (and money) in the world. This match is perfect.
A couple of minor missteps mar “Pete” at the outset. Foremost, this is supposed to be set in Bridgeport, Connecticut, most likely because of that long-ago association with P.T. Barnum, who would surely admire Pete/Marius if he ever met him. But poor, disrespected Bridgeport is nowhere to be seen. The production hardly sets foot out of New York.
In addition, Connecticut has a complicated set of regulations governing bail bondsmen — the legacy of a long, sordid history of corruption. Mostly they’re supposed to let local law enforcement know when they’ve hired a bounty hunter (or become a bounty hunter) to go after a defendant in their jurisdiction who’s skipped their court date. That doesn’t happen here, probably because government regulations make for terrible TV story elements. One other quibble — albeit a minor one. Do grandparents really forget what their grandson looked like 20 years earlier, even if he was a kid at the time?
But get past this and “Pete” is good. After the original co-creator David Shore (“House”), left following the CBS setback, Graham Yost arrived. Yost is one of TV’s prestige producers — a master showman himself who paints character and story in various shades of gray. A Yost production can get loud, noisy and bloody in a hurry (“Justified”) but the better ones tend to be subtle, psychological and evocative (“The Americans”). “Pete” appears to be the latter.
Ribisi’s good here, too, as the con man who “builds memory palaces in his head” — the words of his brother, Eddie. But Yost knows who the real star is, and so do you. Watching Cranston play a remorseless, stone-cold killer is just one more reminder that you’re in the company of one of the finest actors on television. Wondering where Cranston will take Vince is “Pete’s” abiding draw.
BOTTOM LINE After a shaky start, “Pete” gets denser, trickier and better.