The first time I watched a Rian Johnson film I was in high school, bored, and picked up a DVD simply because Joseph Gordon Levitt was listed on the cover. The movie was Brick, and it blew me away. It was an old-school mystery brought to life in the modern day, and everything worked perfectly. Johnson has only continued stretching his whodunnit muscle with the Knives Out franchise, and somehow, Poker Face is even better than everything I just listed.
Poker Face is a 10-episode mystery-of-the-week series following Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie. Brash and maybe a little unlucky, Charlie has one thing on her side, she knows when people are lying. No really, she is a living and breathing lie detector, and that comes in handy for her life in a Las Vegas casino. But she ends up on the wrong side of a bad man. She hits the road with her Plymouth Barracuda and encounters a new cast of characters and strange crimes she can’t help but solve —whether she likes it or not.
With an all-star cast including Dascha Polanco, Benjamin Bratt, Hong Chau, Adrien Brody, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adrien Brody, Lil Rel Howery, Ron Perlman, Chloë Sevigny, and more, Poker Face is a new Peacock original series, and probably one of the largest this season. With a series so stuffed with talent, it would be easy to lose the story and their individual talents in the larger picture. But like with his other endeavors, Johnson understands exactly how to use every single one of the actors to the max. Each actor embraces their characters dynamically, some are types they’ve played before, and others are worlds apart.
Coming together to create a case-of-the-week cross-country adventure that is outstandingly special, Natasha Lyonne holds together Poker Face. The nexus of the story, Lyonne is never overpowered; instead, her personality -and, namely, her brash honesty- make every episode perfect. She counterbalances loud personalities with her own eccentricities, and all of it fits together for a perfectly paced and acted series. Packed with humor, a surprising amount of character depth, and just the right amount of nihilism, Charlie is fantastic.
While this isn’t a traditional detective series per se, the structure of the series works more like a Columbo case of the week series than anything. There is a mystery to unravel, a unique cast fo characters for each setting, and it’s all held together by a larger narrative that begins in episode one. With new killers and new victims every single episode, the whodunnit element never overstays its welcome as it stretches Johnson’s creativity. And while the concept and writing and hell, the directing (or misdirecting in some cases) are all Johnson’s compliments to take, the truth is that Lyonne’s Charlie is why this all works.
Her quirky and brash sense of life, of style, and humor, are a signature that Lyonne has crafted across her career, and every bit of her personality comes through to make Charlie my new favorite detective. Even in her mistakes, she shines. A good concept is only as good as its executions, and in Lyonne’s hands, it’s a ten out of ten.
I’ll keep things brief because Poker Face is best left entered with no information so that you won’t get mystery specifics from me. What I can say is that Poker Face is perfection. The pacing, the characters, the settings, and the eccentricities all showcase the very best of what Rian Johnson can do. Weird with just a hint of irreverence, comedy is centerstage as much as whodunnit crafting, and I can’t wait for more. With all of Rian Johnson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses on display, Poker Face is some of the best television you will ever watch, and it knows that.
Poker Face is streaming exclusively on Peacock January 26, 2023.
With all of Rian Johnson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses on display, Poker Face is some of the best television you will ever watch, and it knows that.