In last season’s cliffhanger finale of “Sneaky Pete,” viewers were left wondering how the show’s lying, cheating lead character was going to get out of his latest jam.
Turns out, even showrunner Graham Yost didn’t know where the story was going.
“While on the one hand I would like to say that we were visionaries and we had everything plotted out, on the other hand I have to be an honest Canadian boy and say we had no idea,” says the Toronto-born Yost.
Season 2 of the series, which stars Giovanni Ribisi as a crafty con man, launches Friday on Amazon Prime Video with 10 new episodes available for streaming.
When we last left Ribisi’s character Marius, he had pulled off a season-long scam posing as his former cell mate Pete Murphy. While hiding out with that man’s unsuspecting family, Marius gets abducted by two mercenaries who demand he take them to Pete’s estranged mother Maggie. This character — so far unseen in the series — has apparently made off with $11 million belonging to their boss.
“We had come up with a rough story to explain the last line of season 1: ‘Take us to your mother and the 11 million dollars,'” Yost says on the phone from the series’ New York production base. “We built it from there.”
Fortunately, this isn’t Yost’s first rodeo. With film and TV writing credits reaching back to “Speed” and “Broken Arrow” and, more recently, as an executive producer on “Justified” and “The Americans,” the Peabody Award winner has pulled characters in and out of jams before.
“He’s not afraid to go dark and he’s not afraid to go light,” says Yost fan Margo Martindale, who plays Pete’s beleaguered grandmother Audrey. “He takes his time and he weaves a web that is so much fun.”
The acclaimed actress won all three of her Emmy Awards on Yost shows “Justified” and “The Americans.” Marin Ireland, Peter Gerety, Libe Barer and Shane McRae also star on “Sneaky Pete.”
Yost is quick to credit Elmore Leonard — his collaborator on his previous series “Justified” — with sharpening his storytelling skills. The revered novelist and screenwriter died in 2013.
“He was so supportive of ‘Justified’ and just the greatest guy to spend time with,” says Yost.
What he and his writing staff take from Leonard is that “things can be funny and they can be really scary, and also there can be surprising emotions. Those became and remain the stars that we aim for.”
Guest stars on Sneaky Pete include Frank Whaley, an actor Yost worked with over 20 years ago on “Broken Arrow.” Whaley makes the most of playing a warden anxious to avoid any last-minute hassles before retirement.
Yost says he always strives to cast actors like Whaley “who know comedy. When they play it straight, it’s even funnier.”
Yost did not have to look far for one of last season’s most memorable guest stars: Bryan Cranston. The “Breaking Bad” Emmy-winner is an executive producer on “Sneaky Pete” and also co-created the series along with London, Ont., actor David Shore.
Cranston and others bring menace to the series — an essential element, says Yost.
“The stakes need to be high,” he says. “There needs to be a sense that there are bad guys willing to do very bad things.”
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.