If you’re a con man who has been recently paroled but people you conned are out to get you, what do you do? Maybe you assume a new identity and ply your conjob skills on other people. That’s exactly what Marius Josipović (Giovanni Ribisi) does in the pilot episode of Sneaky Pete.
Marius has shared a cell with Pete Murphy (Ethan Embry) for the last three years, where Pete has regaled Marius with stories of his family ad nauseum. So when Marius is paroled and finds out the gangster (Bryan Cranston, still cashing in on the bad guy persona he developed on Breaking Bad) he stole $100,000 from is still after him, Marius simply takes on Pete’s identity and goes to hang out with the extended family, his “grandparents” Otto and Audry Bernhardt and his “cousins” Julia, Taylor, and Carly Bowman. Pete was estranged from his family as his mother had run away with him as a young boy, and Marius is able to take advantage of this because they simply don’t know what Pete would look like as a grown adult.
Otto and Audry run a bail bonds business, which gives Marius some cover as they have money in a safe as collateral just in case one of their clients skips bail and they’re forced to cover the rest of the bond. They ask Marius to stay on as a skiptracer. He agrees to because he has hatched a plan to get at their money to hopefully repay the gangster. As they invariably do, things start going sideways right from the start, and Marius’ actual brother’s life is on the line while other family drama threatens to derail everything.
Watching as Marius works his cons, both long and short, on friend and foe alike is unsettling because he seems so good at it. We learn along the way that he has a whole crew of various niche skills, as all conmen seem to in tv shows (*cough* Leverage, one of my guilty pleasures) and movies, which he can put together to pull off elaborate schemes. This is reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, but in the Ocean’s movies the viewer never really sympathizes with the victims. Where Sneaky Pete hits the mark for me is where it doesn’t shy away from demonstrating exactly how deceitful Marius can be. And although the family he is crashing with has their own baggage and gets in trouble on their own, you can’t help but feel sorry for the way Marius plays them for his own ends.
I won’t spoil anything more as the show only recently released its second season on Amazon Prime earlier this year. What I will say is the performances from Giovanni Ribisi and Margo Martindale are the highlights for me. All the acting is in the show top notch, as should be expected, but these two stand out.
If you have Amazon Prime and you like pulp driven crime drama, you’d be remiss if you didn’t watch this show.
 Martindale was also in Justified, about which we’ve already written, playing the matriarch of the Bennett clan, the main antagonists of Justified‘s second season, and Ribisi is (or should be) a household name who acted in everything from My Two Dads, The Wonder Years, and Friends to Gone in 60 Seconds, Ted, and James Cameron’s Avatar.