Had I seen it before: No, but I did watch the episode of The Chew where Giovanni Ribisi was promoting it.
What IMDb says: A con man on the run from a vicious gangster takes cover by assuming the identity of his prison cellmate, Pete, reuniting with his estranged family, that threatens to drag him into a world just as dangerous as the one he’s escaping.
Why I picked it: I understand there is a fair chance you’ve never even heard of this show, which makes it a bit of an anomaly on my list. However, I really wanted to include an Amazon show. They do pilots unlike any other channel, throwing several pilots online and then letting the public vote on which ones should go to series. This means that Amazon pilots have to demand attention in a way that Netflix pilots don’t, since the creators don’t get the option to show their viewers several episodes before they make a final call on whether or not they’re going to stick with the show. At the same time, showrunners don’t have to censor themselves the way they would on the networks or basic cable.
(Sidenote: I also want to give a shout out to Mozart in the Jungle, which might just be my favorite series currently airing/streaming anywhere, and I keep waiting for another show to steal my heart the same way.)
So if there was going to be a token Amazon show anyway, why not pick the one co-created by Bryan Cranston that has 100% Rotten Tomato rating? (That’s this one, in case you were wondering). I want to see 1) is it really THAT good and 2) If it is THAT good, what other factors might have kept this show from catching on.
It also has a bit of the same appeal as Westworld in that I knew very little about the initial premise.
What I liked: CHARACTER ACTRESS MARGO MARTINDALE.
But seriously though, this one does a brilliant job of showing us what future episodes will look like while still leaving enough to the imagination to keep us watching. Marius is a con artist who is working as a bail bondsman. He’s working alongside a by-the-book partner who is naive about the shady means that might be necessary to apprehend criminals. (Not exactly an original dynamic, but it keeps coming up over and over again because it works). Presumably, they’ll spend each episode trying to track down a client and Marius will convince Sexy Blonde Cousin to do shady shit.
But in addition to these procedural aspects, we also know that Marius is hiding from dangerous gangster people. Those gangster people are holding his brother captive. I’ve talked a lot about how good protagonists are defined by their own actions and I think this is one of the genius aspects of the pilot. Marius is presented with a choice. The cliffhanger is about what choice he will make. It’s not about what situation he’s in. It’s not about what other people might do to him. It’s about his choice and I really can’t tell if he cares about his brother being killed by the mob or not.
Then there’s the fact that we can see how he’s going to add immense value to this failing family business, meaning that even if the family ever finds out Marius isn’t who he claims, they’ll be in quite the pickle. We’re going to watch our characters build business and personal relationships on false premises and I can already feel tension escalating. We want to know what’s going to happen when things blow up in Marius’s face. We want to see just how far he’s willing to go to make sure this doesn’t happen.
What I didn’t like: It’s a little hard for me to buy that the family would literally have no idea what actual Pete looks like or what he was up to. This is the age of the internet. Twenty years and NO ONE thought to Google this dude and figure out he was in prison? I mean arrest records are public, aren’t they? Even if let’s say they didn’t, wouldn’t you think to Google him after he randomly appears in your life again after 20 years? It seems like it should be relatively easy for the family to figure this shit out. There’s a chance Character Actress Margo Martindale already has, but it’s still too soon to tell.
I also think the show runs the risk of becoming overly procedural, like the sort of USA cop show with a twist I mentioned when I did my Psych review. I’m not sure it’s there yet, but it could definitely get there if the writers aren’t careful.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes. Episode 1 was easy to consume without being overly stupid or shallow, which makes it easily bingeable. It’s also one where despite my fear of commitment, I already feel like all of Season 1 is worth my time, granted that’s partly because it’s only ten episodes.