Rian Johnson’s done it. In his newest show, “Poker Face,” the writer/director has revived the murder-of-the-week genre reminiscent of shows like “Columbo.”
“Poker Face” follows Charlie Cale, played by Natasha Lyonne, who has a gift of being able to detect when someone’s lying. Although this gift would make her the perfect detective, she works as a waitress at a casino instead, barely scrounging enough money to live in a trailer in the desert, with only a Barracuda to her name.
In the show’s pilot, the head of the casino’s son, played by Adrien Brody, recruits her for a scheme that backfires. The plot sends Cale across the country, fleeing from the casino’s head of security, played by Benjamin Bratt.
“Poker Face” isn’t just a mystery show; it’s also a road trip. Each episode brings Cale to new locations, where she finds new people and new mysteries, keeping the show always-fresh.
The wild settings allow for some great episodes in the series. One episode finds Cale working with a stop-motion special effects artist, modeled after legendary “Star Wars” veteran Phil Tippett, who also did the effects for that episode. Another requires Cale to team up with a racist dog after she causes a barbeque expert’s death when she lends him a copy of “Okja,” leading to him turning vegan.
The show also succeeds with its large cast of characters, and “Poker Face” doesn’t hold back with its castings for these roles. Just choosing some of the bigger names, “Poker Face” features actors like Hong Chau, Lil Rel Howery, Simon Helberg, Tim Meadows, Tim Blake Nelson, Ron Perlman, Nick Nolte, Stephanie Hsu and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Johnson is no stranger to mysteries. He’s seen great success with recent hits like the “Knives Out” films, both of which I adored. However, if you’re expecting “Poker Face” to be the exact same, you might be disappointed.
Movies like “Knives Out” follow a “whodunnit” structure, where the killer is unknown from the start. “Poker Face,” however, takes a non-linear approach, called a “howcatchem” or “inverted detective story,” where each episode shows the murder at the beginning, leaving Cale to figure out how to catch the murderer.
Don’t let this deter you, though. Being given the starting and ending points leaves you to connect the dots yourself before Cale. The show’s humor is an added bonus, too.
“Poker Face” isn’t just the work of Johnson. Although his personality is seen all throughout the show, other writers and directors helped with the show, giving each episode its own unique feel.
Still, this is probably Johnson’s best work, and I fully mean that as a compliment to his already-great collection of films and shows.
“Poker Face” began streaming on Peacock Jan. 26, with its 10th episode hitting the service March 9. Peacock’s choice to pick up this bizarre yet incredible show is a major win for the service, which has largely been one of the underdogs of the streaming wars. This, along with other great January inclusions to the service such as “Paul T. Goldman” and “Tár,” are just what the service needs to further establish itself.
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“Poker Face” is a must-watch for fans of murder-mysteries, fans of comedy and fans of good television. And don’t worry about getting hooked; the series has already been renewed for season two.