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Digging Deeper Into the World of ‘Sneaky Pete’
January 14, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

Everybody’s wearing a disguise

To hide what they got left behind their eyes
--“Abandoned Love,” Bob Dylan

Right up front, Amazon’s new crime drama Sneaky Pete follows a small-time con man who’s trying to avoid getting himself and his brother killed by a much more hard-core bad guy. 

Below the surface, though, says showrunner Graham Yost, “It’s about playing a role. We see a character who’s playing a role try to blend into this Norman Rockwell family, only to find they’re also playing roles.” 

That is to say, Sneaky Pete (Giovanni Ribisi, top) is really, in a sense, trying to escape himself. Or trying to find himself. 

It all sounds artsy and cerebral when you phrase it that way. But Sneaky Pete, whose first season became available Friday (1/13) on Amazon Prime, skillfully covers its philosophical side with a barrage of hard-core action. 

Marin Ireland (top, with Ribisi, and right) plays Julie Bernhardt, who has returned to her family in Bridgeport, Conn., to help out with the family bail bond business. 

As ways to make a living go, this one involves a lot of scrambling and more than an occasional show of attitude, since by definition you’re not dealing with the most upstanding members of society. 

The family is run by Audrey Bernhardt (Margo Martindale), whose husband Otto (Peter Gerety) is recovering from a stroke. 

Julie is Audrey’s daughter. She apparently broke away from the family a few years back and returned after having two children with two different and equally worthless men. 

Audrey values family above all else, so she welcomes Julie back even though she isn’t sure Julie has the skillset to succeed in the business. 

Family is the reason she also welcomes Pete into their home when he tells her he is her long-unseen nephew. In reality, he isn’t. He has taken the identity of his prison cellmate to avoid being whacked by the very nasty Vince (Bryan Cranston). 

All those twists bring Julie and Pete together, and that’s where Ireland says the broader theme of Sneaky Pete can start to play out. 

“They make a connection because I think they both feel pretty damaged,” Ireland says. “A lot of the show to me is about whether it’s possible to reinvent yourself, to figure out who they really are and whether you can walk away from the past and become a better person.” 

She adds that at the beginning of the story that’s just a question, with no clear answer. 

“One of the fascinating things to me is not knowing where it’s going,” she says. “Every time we open a script, we find out something more.” 

Yost, who took over from David Shore after Sneaky Pete moved from a CBS development project to Amazon, says it’s a strength that the show could either plunge deeper into its ample darkness or find some light. 

“We know the stakes, and we know the engine,” he says. “As with Marin’s character, we will just see where it all goes.” 

Ireland says viewers will see a different side of Julie as the show goes on. 

“She thinks of herself as a good person who has made some bad choices,” says Ireland. “But we’ll start to get glimpses of who she was before she returned to Bridgeport, and we find out that she got into some pretty dark stuff. 

“Before Bridgeport, there was a lot of dysfunction, not just naïve bad decisions. Now I think she’s trying to figure out if she can use her powers for good, not evil.” 

That’s the same question that Pete, real name Marius Josipovic, is asking himself – whether, instead of focusing his attention on hustles, he can use it to free himself and his brother Eddie (Michael Drayer) from Vince. 

At the same time, he feels a curious attraction to the Bernhardt family, notably including Julie, even though both he and they are sensing that there are things they all don’t know about each other. 

In the process, suggests Ireland, viewers can start to sympathize with these characters despite the fact we might not trust them to babysit our children. 

“Even Vince,” says Ireland. “He looks like just a bad guy. Then we find out more about where he came from. We see some of his vulnerabilities, and he’s not just a corrupt cop anymore.”

Alluding to Cranston’s previous TV character, Walter White in Breaking Bad, Ireland notes how “he slid into darkness, but he was still, in a lot of ways, a good guy.” 

No one in Sneaky Pete seemed headed for anything quite as dark as Walter White’s path. In fact, they’re all trying hard to stay off it. 

But to do that, Ireland and Yost point out, their 2.0 versions of themselves will have to fix some issues that plagued 1.0.
 
 
 
 
 
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