Photo content credit: Sneaky Pete
Created (2015-2016) by David Shore & Bryan Cranston
Available with Amazon Prime
Priorhouse Overall Sneaky Pete Rating: C+
I only heard about Sneaky Pete last Christmas. My son came home for the holidays and insisted we watch the pilot, which was already a year old.
The pilot was a jam-packed hour of suspense. Bryan Cranston, as Vince, entered the scene at the very end as a gangster needing to collect a debt. He was wearing a crispy white tux shirt with a bow tie undone. He took the phone call on the veranda, with a marvelous view of the city. Breaking Bad fans saw a new look for Cranston – one that was opposite of the cancer-stricken, drug-making father in Breaking Bad. I gave the Pilot an A, but gave Season 1 a strong C+.
All of Season 1 was released on Amazon Prime in early January and we waited to indulge. Even though I only give the show a C+, it was not a waste of time and has promise if they can improve for Season 2.
Quick Overview of Sneaky Pete
Sneaky Pete is an Amazon Studios original series about a con man, Marius (Ribis), who assumes the identity of his former prison cellmate, Pete (Embry). Marius poses as Pete – and then bonds with Pete’s family members – who are in the bail bond business. He is trying to come up with 100K to pay a debt to Vince so that Marius’ brother Eddie (Drayer) will be released in tact.
***author update 1-29-17 – I corrected some typos and added in a few more details about Pete***
Spoiler alert: If you plan on watching the show this blog post does reveal a few details.
Things We Really Liked
The story of Sneaky Pete in Season 1 flowed at a good pace and each episode unfolded with intrigue. The web of a story was woven with suspense and the skill of the writers was obvious. Some scenes had a piercing impact –the kind of scenes that pull you in – and take hold of something to leave you stirred. Those gripping scenes are what kept us hitting next episode.
The quality of the acting was superior and a diverse cast (mix of ages, gender, and race) gave us a natural East Coast vibe.
The steak dinner scene with Vince and Karolina (Wydra) was a top scene for us: bites of steak, sips of wine, and revealing conversation – while sitting at bar stools facing the viewer. Artsy – well written – and we could feel Vince’s pride (and insecurity) as he talked about what he has built for himself. Maybe a little wannabe Godfather-ish (still chewing on the whole Vince characterization), but also liked the clothing worn by Vince and Karolina – some outfits were a touch of Great Gatsby with tuxedos and gowns.
LOVED the ending hug between sneaky Pete and his brother Eddie. Powerful. Gratifying. Said so much. These two spent so many episodes distanced as their relationship served as the pivot for our plot. Eddie was being held captive while Pete tried to get the money for his debt to Vince, and by the end of the season, Eddie had become a top character for me.
Eddie’s rooftop yell (more below) was my number one scene and my son’s favorite scene was Brendon’s snap (also below). But that culminating hug – that powerful gripping hug Eddie and Pete shared inferred friendship that went beyond bloodline.
Sneaky Pete (Marius)
I liked Ribis in the movie Saving Private Ryan and enjoyed this actor as the lead – playing the role of Marius, posing as Pete.
This actor has an innate gift and he was able to adjust his manipulative style with slightly different personas with different characters – while still portraying the same former prisoner character throughout. When he was sneaking phone calls from the barn, rushing to catch the train, or giving the phone to Audrey when she wanted to speak with his supposed former boss – he was consistent. There is a lot more to get to know about Marius, and we have hints of his past – with the debt and the death of Charlie…. and we see small aspects of the man beyond the crisis mode – like his response to the teen who was stealing his money shows kindness. And when he is shaken up from being in the trunk of a car – we just feel his predicament. The Marius we know from Season 1 is the man in serious crisis as he rushed around adapting schemes in problem-solving mode.
I started off not liking Julia (Ireland) because she overdid his/her facial expressions in many episodes (even in the pilot – when they did not need to get on the flight for their made up diabetic relative- her eyes rolled a bit too much). However, Julia’s character unfolded with depth.
As the episodes unfolded, I began to see that the facial gestures had to do with the character they were giving us – an expressionistic, sometimes neurotic and frazzled, single mother who has been unlucky in love. In one scene, she vented to Pete in the front seat of a car. She rambled and went on and on – and when she was done – she thanked Pete so much for his help – and he sat dumbfounded. Ahhhh – the writer of that scene nailed something special that so many men might relate with… how many guys have been there for someone in just that way? Such a realistic scene executed well. And so instead of criticizing Julia’s facial expressions or acting, I realized this was maybe more in line with the character here; consequently, her character reminded me of a few different ladies I know in real life.
Eddie turned out to be my favorite character. He was my least favorite in the pilot. He came across like a weasel. Marius stayed in the cab because he discovered Eddie was setting him up – and so the initial view of him is poor. However, as the episodes unfolded – Eddie was just a regular guy – could be any of us – and he was cool. He was caught up in this familial predicament of gangster debt. And he was a skillful card player too.
Various scenes with Eddie let us get to know him through conversation. We ached when his body was injured (ordered by Vince) and as Eddie sat bandaged on the couch, telling his captor to relax because he does not want to be there either… we know this character – and the bond is there. My favorite scene of the series was the one with Eddie on the roof. He escaped (in a believable way) and made it to the roof to call his brother (Marius posing as Pete). Pete insisted that Eddie cannot escape right now – and he must go back down and stay in captivity – well Eddie lets out this wail. The camera backs off and we feel the wail with the vastness of the rooftop (see next photo) and the city beyond.
Eddie’s bandaged nose shows grit – and the fact that he went back, and listened to his brother, showed toughness and that he was a team player – showed he was able to yield and he trusted his brother. This was way different from the Eddie at the start – who seemed passive and weak as he was setting his brother up.
As Eddie wailed – it reminded me of times in life when complete frustration has swelled to the point of reaching the brim. An exhaling ughhhhhh….. then time to regroup…. back to work…. and yes, he could do this – and back down he went.
My son’s favorite scene was with Brendon (Henke), the new boyfriend of one of Pete’s ex-girlfriends, Katie (Kull). Brendon choked the corrupt Detective Winslow (O’Keefe).
Winslow took their child for a few hours (to get to Marius) and standing in the kitchen – Brendon snapped for a few seconds.
Brendon is this large Paul Bunyan kind of man – giving the cast even more flair – and with his extra-large hands he almost killed this conniving detective. Something just comes over him – his son was taken and now he had him back – and the stress of that led to him almost choking the dirty detective to death. Brendon caught himself – but the viewer never saw it coming and the rest of that episode is not the same because of that scene.
Brendon and his girlfriend let the dirty detective go – which is an example of how the violence in Sneaky Pete was not too rough. There was not a bunch of senseless killing or tons of graphic blood and guts. Instead, the very few scenes that involved murder (like the targeted witness and the hired hit man being taken out) were presented as key parts of the story.
Otto, Taylor, and Blood on the Floor
Otto (Gerety) is Pete’s grandfather and at the office of his bail-bond business – there was a murder and Otto sat in shock while there was a pool of blood on the floor. It was a time in the series when Taylor (McRae) warmed to us. Taylor, Pete’s cousin, is a police officer in their small town and throughout the series he reminded me of an annoying former boyfriend: Big dude, always horsing around, and with a medium IQ. Taylor also had a temper, which was cleverly depicted as the quintessential ‘police officer hot head’ – you know, with the intoxicating power that sometimes comes with a badge worn by a jock in uniform (no offense meant here).
However, Taylor’s character went to a new level during the scene in Otto’s office. There was blood on the floor from the dead house painter hit man. Otto was in shock because his plan was foiled – and now a man was dead. The Indians took the body, but a pool of blood was on the floor. Otto’s fantastic acting came through again and seriously, he felt like he could be our uncle. Taylor was calm and collected – up until this point he was a jokester, man of the law who was sleeping with an old fling (who was married). So when Taylor told Otto he was going to the store to get supplies to clean the place up – we felt a pause. Strength came through. Taylor’s character came to life as he supported Otto. (Taylor was not like the law enforcement characters from other shows – he was not Hank from Breaking Bad….. Taylor was no Javert.)
The bloodshed in Season 1 flowed seamlessly with literary undertones. I don’t like bloodshed, but it fit in with the drama here. There is one scene where Pete’s grandmother, Audrey (Martindale), washed her dirty hands, with a bloody wound on her forehead, she wiped her hands off with a towel – just like that – washed up and continued on. As we see Audrey rinsing at the sink – the water runs – and there is almost a Lady Macbeth vibe – and we can imagine a bit of blood going down the drain.
Audrey’s business as usual mode adds to the layers of deceit and aloofness woven into the characters here. I was a little bothered by SO MUCH deceit going on – but maybe this is realistic to our culture. Sad if it is, but I think having everyone a little “crooked” was a flaw. There are some people who live blameless and above reproach and failing to give us a couple of “clean” characters – or even one – pulled from the story. And if season 2 does give us a few squeaky clean and blameless folks – please keep Taylor doing what he is doing – because the surprise twist from him, with his familial moral decision, gave him depth.
Discussions with My Son
Season 1 of Sneaky Pete earned points for suspense and many scenes were enjoyable moments for my son and me. For example, when the lawyer, Lance (Pitts), started citing legal terms (a bit Andy Dufresne-like) it was done with this astute lawyer dryness. So good. – But the conniving is overdone (and my spouse said it felt like, “Too many stories that we did not really care about.”) – and there was even a mini Ponzi scheme brought in with Lance stealing Audrey’s money. However, the action flows and characters came to life. There were little details that showed creative finesse. For example, the parole officer was introduced in a way to make him “look like” a stud. He busts this guy – who is getting busy with his woman – and Kid Rock was playing low in the background. Many little details were woven into the stories – like the way the young couple (mixed races) was stealing from people in the park, the magician was conning seniors, informants hiding out, Pete manipulating folks with lies, the bondsman, that archetypal parole officer, and Karolina’s exquisiteness. I was a little tired of Karolina at the end, and her first entrance was tired (swimming naked while taunting the body guard), but we both agreed her natural and smooth elegance added something to the episodes.
My son and I agreed that a few things were overdone. As noted before, the lying and cheating with everyone felt like too much. The slow layering of clues and “almost busted” moments seemed to cycle. My son pointed out the Indian Reservation and a few other details I missed – and we found Vince’s monologues interesting, but a bit long. There was one monologue that went on for so long we were a little tired of Vince. Also, Vince’s stoic depiction might have been in character with a small time gansta’ dude, but I was hoping for more feeling here. But it might have just been his character to stay subdued. Either way, the character of Vince left me unimpressed. The gambling room ‘set up’ felt like a movie stage, but they also did not adequately establish Vince’s power as a gangster in NYC. We needed more details to really establish his prestige. I guess they tried to do this with one of the monologues (that led to the toe snip) but it was not enough to have us know Vince more intimately.
Sure, Vince has Eddie kept hostage and he has Karolina for his keeping – but we only see a couple of bodyguards and then this very small and overly light gambling room. He eats a good steak and dresses elegantly, but I think a few more details were needed to develop Vince’s status and power. Maybe some of that long monologue time could have been used to show us life details so we could know more about this criminal who was at the center of Pete’s scrapping to get 100K.
My son and I also discussed that there is almost a timeless feel in each episode. Traditional tuxes, classic gowns, jeans, and basic outfits that could be found in the 80’s, 90’s or 2000’s. I once heard Tony Shalhoub share about the classical clothing choices used in the TV show Monk. The outfits were specifically chosen to be neutral and to not have a time stamp. Natalie wore timeless business casual pieces and police uniforms and detective blazers were basic. The outfits on characters in Sneaky Pete felt similar with neutral attire in almost every scene – even the old cars made the decade hard to pinpoint. Going from the farm to city and city to small town – there was a timeless vibe.
Only the larger iPhone models revealed that this action was occurring post 2015. Maybe the timeless feel was intentional – or maybe it was an oversight.
I am not sure if I like the timeless feel, but I do think they missed out by not integrating modern technology more.
We live in a technological mega era and aside from making a high-tech fake driver’s license and switching prison records, we see very little use of technology in Sneaky Pete. And some scenes were begging for simple and basic tech – like when Vince became suspicious that a poker player was possibly cheating at one of his tables – you would think that he would instantly start reviewing video footage…..
So you can see that we gave Season 1 a C for a few reasons. Another reason was the overuse of the word “dick.”
When I think of the word d**k being way overused I feel repulsed.
I am not against ‘swear words’ when they are integrated as power words and when they are part of characterization. But it seemed like the word d**k was forced in on too many scenes and we were all tired of hearing it. I almost wondered if they were trying to coin the word d**k – – like Jesse’s ‘bitch’ became noteworthy in Breaking Bad. But my least favorite dialogue in the series was between Taylor and the guy in the liquor store – it was classless. Terrible writing.
Further, I get annoyed when writers intentionally include the name of Jesus to be used as a griping term or an exclamation phrase. It reveals shallow writing. I am not insulted in a religious way – but insulted as a writer. (Seinfeld fans will catch my connection here…. you might recall that Cranston had the role of dentist, and in The Yada Yada episode Seinfeld was “offended as comedian.)
So…. I was Bothered by the poor wordsmithing – because using Jesus to gripe with is a poor choice of words – for so many reasons. So writers – do you mean that out of all the rich and amazing words available someone actually scribbled in Jesus and it felt like the best word to use? Well you missed out on some tastier word options. Just sayin’
A few insulting scenes are what led me to deduct points with my grade for this series.
There is this word – called believability – and all shows need to have a diverse team of people scanning finished scenes with their BS detectors on.
Marcus Lemonis always talks about the need for accurate and honest feedback – and he gets panels of people for mere recipes or a logo – and so in a series with a cast of 106 actors, 9 directors, and 18 contributing producers (imbd) there should never be a scene that leaves the viewer thinking that would NOT really happen.
For example, when Marius (posing as Pete) is in the living room of a bail bond client’s home, we see Pete with his pocketknife out. After some chatting with the clients, Pete raises the heavy clock to reveal that it is the valuable model with the special X scratched on the bottom (making the clock’s value go up), which would help his scheme of getting access to his needed debt money. The scene was overall great, with the mom’s good acting, the art, an Antiques Roadshow joke, and smooth dialogue, but there was no way that even the best con man could sketch an X in the bottom of a clock while three other people were so close in the same room.
So…. do you mean to infer that no one noticed Pete pick up the heavy clock while he also did a little etching with his knife? The young dude, Derek (Bonner) standing beside his mother likely would have said, “Dude – why you be touchin’ our stuff? What’s up with that?” Or someone in the room would have noticed Pete was fiddling around with their possessions – I mean – everyone was a few feet away from each other. Writers – can we please NOT insult the intelligence of viewers?
Another example with questionable believability had to do with the pawn shop owner. The pawn shop owner fell for the ‘phone alarm goes off, he turns his head to look, and the fake Rolex gets switched with the real one’ – Really? Maybe Pete should have said, “Made you look…”
And then the time that Pete sneakily removed (lifted) a Rolex from this big man’s arm…. Well Rolex’s don’t exactly slide off – and they cannot be robbed that easily. The writers should have checked some old news stories about folks in Boca Raton, Florida getting their Rolexes stolen at gunpoint – it takes time to take off a Rolex.
High-end watches have security clasps and if you are going to steal one, there is effort involved because they are NOT the slip off kind of bangle watch. My Tag-Heur watch has a safety clasp that is not easy to undo… and so to even suggest that a Rolex – the King of all watches – could be slipped off of someone’s wrist shows ignorance regarding the watch’s sophisticated Oysterlock clasp, which is aesthetically designed for durability and security. Further, the owner of the Rolex watch was one big dude and he was no fool – so come on now – really? Someone failed to do proper research for this little scam and did not assess believability. And yes, the details do matter – small things like this are what separate a decent show from a great show.
Another question of believability occurred when the teenager Carly (Barer) was allowed access to Taylor’s police computer.
Also, when Vince’s girlfriend Karolina revealed to Marius’ brother Eddie that she was scheming against Vince – it lacked viability because the setting was Vince’s gambling room.
Do you mean to suggest that there was no recording device running? Of course there would be in real life. Since at least the 1980’s basic audio recording devices have been ubiquitous – and nowadays audio and video devices are cheap and standard – so no matter which decade the show was trying to depict – it was not believable that Karolina would so loudly reveal her scam – unless maybe she wanted Vince to hear, because at the end we do see a surprise twist to the revenge scheme. But Karolina gets the bodyguard to leave and then she loudly gives Eddie the scoop about her scheme– it made you shake your head and cringe.
The gambling room itself also came up short. In one way it was awesome. The all-brick walls had a tasty feel. The game played was Texas Hold’em – right on! And I guess the extremely lit room was appropriate illumination for poker, but it felt too clean – and maybe too bright. At times, the gambling room felt like the stage prop it was. The New York City entrance to this room, with a clerk looking through a yellowed and dinged up security window, did not seem to be the real entrance for this gambling room. Further, the veranda that Vince and Karolina were on (in their bathrobes) did not feel like a natural extension of their home. The disjointed feel was subtle, but there.
Told vs. Shown
The writers might have “told more than shown” that the Bernhardt family had money problems. The topic of hurting for money came up a few times. There was mention of losing the farm as finances were supposedly on the brink. But they did not show us any of this hardship – well maybe they did because the teen was shoplifting clothes, but sometimes teens shoplift (and smoke pot like she did) for other reasons and not because of financial need.
The Breaking Bad writers were good at “showing” financial hardship. For example, the time when Mrs. White was selling cheap trinkets online – that showed hardship and a need for money because she was mailing something off to get fourteen dollars (something like that). And then the time when money was rolling in – Mr. and Mrs. White were rolling around in bed and they began talking about the scent on the sheets from the ‘new’ fabric softener. That little detail showed the ‘move up’ from hard money times to better money times – because fabric softener, especially a high-end brand, can be a luxury item on some budgets.
I guess hurting for money or being on the brink is somewhat subjective. Some wealthy people feel poor because they don’t have a jet or cannot buy another home – who knows…. but it seemed like there were references about things being ‘so financially tight’ but the story could have shown it more. Instead, Audrey was paying for lunch with ease, Julia’s youngest child was perpetually in daycare, which is usually bucks, everyone had smartphones, etc.
The ending felt rushed when it came to the reveal and closure. However, in another way – the conclusion was masterfully edited with brilliance and precision. For example, Pete (Marius posing as Pete) goes to see the real Pete in prison and in just a few minutes – we experienced a lengthy visit and felt Marius extract some good details to use while posing with his family.
Also, as the revenge scheme wrapped up in the final episode, there was a sense of satisfaction with the success of it all (maybe with an Italian Job feel).
There is an art to brevity – and it takes skill and work to be succinct – but they did it. I wonder how much time was spent piecing together such a coherent ending – in ways that the viewer could connect the dots with ease – while also sending characters off – and then giving teasers for a possible next season.
However, the pacing was too fast. After many episodes of smoothly paced drama, we were suddenly presented with a fast-moving ‘reveal’ wrap up – that was a lot to swallow at once: This is what really happened with the scheme – this character was going here – that one there, etc.
It was like being forced out of the door with a bite of dessert stuffed in your mouth. You know, like you were wined and dined with a nicely paced five-course meal – but then dessert came and you were rushed out while being force-fed dessert bites – as if it some carriage would soon become a pumpkin.
On top of all of that, overtly forced teasers were squished in at the end.
I guess they had to give obvious hints at what might unfold in Season 2. It will likely involve money laundering with Julia and the Indians, Gina (Carmichael) working with Pete as a conniving sidekick, Taylor’s legal problems addressed, Vince getting revenge (maybe with more monologues), Otto and Audrey enjoying renewed friendship after truth was exposed, Carly getting involved in some bigger (yawn) shenanigans, and maybe the real Pete being released from prison and the family discovers Sneaky Pete’s real identity is Marius.
Okay – that is all for my review.
And if you think this was long — well some folks write almost this much to review a single episode – so keep in mind I had ten episodes to reflect on. 🙂
And I could have written even more. But this feels like a perfect ending point.
Thanks for reading…
– oh and here is the other sneaky pete