Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Long Road to Air: “Sneaky Pete”

Back in March, I did a post, looking at “Emerald City” and its trek to our TV screens. As you can read from that post, I wasn’t overly impressed with it. But, luckily, Amazon has given us another show to look at that took a long time (over a year) to get to our computer screens and mobile devices: “Sneaky Pete”. Now, I’ll admit I felt a little more invested in this show from the start with how Amazon does their original series pilots. To give the unfamiliar a quick down and dirty: every year, Amazon releases pilot episodes of shows they are considering ordering to series. They allow those with Prime memberships to watch and rate the shows. Based on user feedback 9and I’m sure some other things) they make the decision whether to order a show to series. In the summer of 2015 I watched the pilot for this show and I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was because it was a con and heist show and it filled a little bit of the void left in my heart by “Leverage” or maybe it was just a well-done pilot. But, like “Emerald City”, it was a bit of a long road to air for this show as well. It, too, lost a showrunner early in the process. But unlike “Emerald City”, the extended timeframe doesn’t seem to have hurt the show nearly as much. For one thing, I definitely remembered it still existed and still wanted to watch it!

Before we talk about the show itself, I wanted to just take a moment to say how much I like the way Amazon does their pilots. Often times, shows bomb because there isn’t enough interest in the show. But with the way Amazon does their original fare, they know people will watch at least one season of the show because they’ve got the data from the pilot before they even agree to make more episodes. I know this isn’t necessarily a viable option for big networks just given the number of pilots they get every season but it definitely needs to be mentioned that it is a unique way of cultivating programming.

From the pilot, we learned that the story for the season centered on Marius, a con man who is getting out of prison after three years on the inside. But Vince, the guy he conned is after him and to avoid capture (and likely death for both Marius and his younger brother Eddie who was a card dealer for Vince); he impersonates his sweet cellmate, Pete. This means Marius has to spend a lot of time in Connecticut. Now being a native of the state, it made me smile when they mentioned certain places. A lot of the time, shows will be set in big cities like New York or LA or whatever. I liked that this took place in a smaller town in Connecticut. Marius is hoping to steal money from Pete’s family to pay off the debt he owes Vince. Instead, Marius begins to bond with the family and learns that they have far more secrets than he expected. He also gets closer to them and cares about them, even if he tries not to admit it to himself. After all, a good con man doesn’t get attached to his mark.

While there were a few characters (like Lance, the sleazy lawyer who was married to one of Pete’s cousins and the dirty New York cop who was chasing Marius) I didn’t like, I thought the season was extremely well done. The plot didn’t drag at all and there were multiple storylines that weaved together to keep you guessing and interested in the lives of the family. At the beginning of the story, you think that Pete’s family is just nice and wholesome but by the end you realize they have some petty dark and dirty secrets that they are hiding. The writers did well giving you hints at backstory for everyone without overloading you with detail. But they gave you enough information to understand where people were coming from. I enjoyed that I didn’t entirely see the larger con Marius was working until near the end of the season. And I have to admit, after seeing Bryan Cranston as Zordon in “Power Rangers” (and not having ever seen “Breaking Bad”), I was impressed with how menacing he could be as Vince, a former cop turned bad guy. But he also played it with a vulnerability that made you almost want to sympathize with him. But only almost. I think the entire production crew did a great job giving you a story that wrapped up most of the loose ends by the season finale but also set things up for another season (which we will be getting).

I was a little surprised how invested Marius got in Pete’s family and how they still don’t believe that he isn’t their relative, despite numerous people telling them he’s a fraud. But I also like how he fits into their family dynamic perfectly. At the end of the season, we see Pete walking about from them after getting all of the money back that the family had lost due to various schemes. I loved that Marius was developing enough of a connection with these people that he couldn’t just walk away with the money and say “screw you”. The more I think about it, the more this show had a feeling like an Ocean’s Eleven (or something similar). I’m not sure why I enjoy the con and heist premise so much. I mean, in the real world, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of such a scheme but there’s something almost theatrical and beautiful about the characters pulling things off. Maybe it’s just the caliber of the actors and the writing that make it so engrossing. I can’t wait to see what happens next in season 2 for Marius and Pete’s family.

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