Sneaky Pete, a title coined in part due to co-creator Bryan Cranston‘s childhood nickname, is a quiet triumph from Amazon. There’s a distinct lack of conman-led dramas, especially on television, that aren’t born out of the bravado of white-collar crime and A-list Hollywood star power. Giovanni Ribisi, who some are familiar with as “the secondary antagonist from Avatar,” has been a knockout character actor for some time, and shines as the titular Pete (a stolen identity), formerly known as Marius Josipovic.
What I like about Sneaky Pete is its ability to balance unscrupulous nuance without losing the full humanity of its players. While some may say that a few characters have reached the irredeemable point of no return, there’s still heart in this show in spite of the antagonist’s reckless hate. Faces are burned by acid, throats are cut, and many a gun is fired, mostly from the easily identifiable forces of evil. What our “heroes” are mostly guilty of is petty crime and family betrayals, the likes of which season two packs in even more so than it did initially, to some aplomb.
Although the pace has slowed a bit, the showrunners are great at actually getting things done without waiting five-to-ten episodes to show their hand. Season one kept up the tension and although the follow-up doesn’t quite give us a Bryan Cranston cameo hook in the first episode, it doesn’t disappoint. At this point, you care about the cast, so some slow-moving plot points are a given. Instead of charging forward we’re going back to the mystery of who Pete impersonated: Original Pete, or OP if you will. Now we’re starting to delve more into the mythos of the show, a popular tactic for the second season after they’ve already hooked the audience, but one that doesn’t always pay off. Thankfully, we aren’t hit in the head with flashbacks.
Alison Wright (Marjorie) getting more screen time as Pete’s confidante and partner is a wonderful thing. I’ve always enjoyed her work on The Americans (a show she shares with Margo Martindale, also another great addition to Sneaky Pete) and her ability to slip into multiple roles rivals Ribisi’s skill. We also get to see different shades of the rest of the cast, as thin as their arcs may be. Matriarch Audrey Bernhardt spent the first season in control, but now her life is spiraling as she wrestles with and attempts to hide a (justified) murder in Macbethian fashion (done in bombastic style with incriminating paint that she “can’t brush out” of her car, her very own version of Duncan’s blood).
Where this storyline falters is in the opposition, shoved in at the expense of an already juicy family drama. Jane Adams does a fantastic turn as the scheming yet endearing mother of Original Pete, but the main villain, a generic mobster that pales in comparison to Bryan Cranston’s cocky Vince Lonigan, is utterly forgettable. The same goes for recurring menace Chayton Dockery, who is far less formidable and more one-note this season, and a wannabe hitman whose name isn’t even worth recalling. Even just one small harmless skirmish with Pete’s probation officer (played charismatically by Malcolm-Jamal Warner) gifted us more tension.
The latter half of the season also loses sight of some of the B-plots. One part of the family’s entire purpose is to throw the scent off of Audrey, an arc that barely serves any meaning outside of one literal Chekhov’s gun being planted, has no long-term repercussions, and could have been something Pete just solved on his own. Even the teaser ending for season three isn’t as explosive, hinting at something that was already heavily suspected (Pete isn’t who he says he is). I had an emotional connection going into the season but at this point, I’d be okay if Pete and Marjorie just took their act on the road.
Sneaky Pete’s second offering isn’t nearly as classic as its first, and a lot of its shortcomings can be attributed to a lack of Pete-helmed storylines. Giovanni Ribisi is not only magnetic, he’s born for the role, and is entertaining on-screen at nearly every turn. As talented as the supporting cast is, the showrunners have put so much of the burden on Pete’s shoulders that they start to falter due to his weight. That said, I’ll be there day one for season three if it’s greenlit.