TV Review: 'Sneaky Pete' Season 1

Amazon's con-man series offers a delightful blend of situational comedy and high stakes drama. "Sneaky Pete" follows Marius Josipović (Giovanni Ribisi), an ex-con fresh out of prison, who needs to lay low for a while. He owes money to a ruthless mob boss (the excellent Bryan Cranston), who wants to collect. So Marius does what no one in his situation would do. He assumes the identity of his cellmate Pete Murphy (Ethan Embry) and shows up at Pete’s grandparents' house to let them know he’s home.

What ensues is a life and death game that finds Marius trying to keep his cover alive as Pete, while staying two steps ahead of Bryan Cranston's menacing mobster so he can save his brother. It all makes for a compelling, elaborate story that features character-driven drama at its forefront.

The writing on “Sneaky Pete” is exceedingly slick and Marius does such a fantastic job of convincing Pete’s family of his identity that you really wish he was telling the truth. The fear that he will be discovered is two-fold. For one, it is fun to see this eccentric family effortlessly endear themselves to Marius.

Secondly, the show thrives when Marius’ con with the family is playing out and his being revealed would ruin that entire dynamic. It is like superheroes’ secret identities. For story purposes, they are best left, secret.

Giovanni Ribisi’s casting as the fast-talking Marius is spot-on. As Ribisi's filmography can attest, he is a terrific actor, who elevates his co-stars to exponential heights and in “Sneaky Pete,” he does the same while garnering more of the spotlight that has sometimes eluded him in other roles.

What makes Giovanni Ribisi's casting stand out is that he played a character much like Marius' brother in "Gone in 60 Seconds." When you compare that performance with his as Marius, it offers a quick reminder of Ribisi's remarkable versatility.

Thanks to the casting directors, the ensemble that surrounds Ribisi is equally formidable. Every actor feels so natural, the lilt to their line delivery a mixture of straightforward believability and playful moxie. Pete’s no non-sense grandma Audrey (Margo Martindale), compassionate grandpa Otto (Peter Gerety), ex-bully cousin Taylor (Shane McRae), feisty cousin Julia (Marin Ireland), and chill cousin Carly (Libe Barer), are all exceptionally cast.

Believing the family at its center is part of "Sneaky Pete’s" charming con. The family has to be sweet and salty enough to believably win over a cynic like Marius.

“Sneaky Pete” is at its best when it is focused on Pete's family and Marius’ cons. Preferably when the two go hand in hand. When Marius/Pete is working it, so is the show.

Rating: 8/10

The first two seasons of "Sneaky Pete" are currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

[Featured Image by Amazon]

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