11 February 2023

I Am Digging Poker Face

I read the news, and in the news there is hype. A bunch of hype recently touted a new mystery series on Peacock, Poker Face. The reviews were good enough, varied enough, and legit enough. A throwback to Columbo and the case of the week, they said. I was interested, largely because you can't beat the creative pedigree: Rian Johnson, lately of Knives Out and Glass Onion.

Still didn't watch it. I only clicked play when Poker Face cleared my real test: family screening. If family likes a show, I go from curious to intrigued. Family liked Poker Face a lot. And call me sold, six episodes in. Yeah, it's a throwback down to old school credit fonts and an awesomely shambolic sleuth.

The show takes its name from said sleuth, Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne). Benoit Blanc, she is not. Charlie is a heart-of-gold, drifter type whose drifting led to a Laughlin, Nevada trailer park. Episode One opens with her fetching comped drinks at a mid-grade casino. She got the job because the casino boss (Ron Perlman) caught her not-quite cheating at a poker tournament and wanted her off the circuit. Charlie's superpower is she knows when someone is lying. She has no idea what's true, but falsehoods she can spot. To avoid spoilers, circumstances and a sense of justice force Charlie to use that skill for solving a murder. 

It turns out Charlie missed her calling. Comic premise becomes a series formula when Charlie goes on the lam from Very Bad People. Every week, she hits a new town and new offbeat turn at murder. Charlie's sleuthing rambles between utter inexperience, missed inferences, and downright brilliance, with plenty of it's-right-on-the-edge-of-her brain shtick. The format is a howdunnit, with the crime played out first over 15 minutes of motive, means, and opportunity. Charlie's presence and accidental sleuthing emerge later, a perfect choice. Charlie is no cop. No one's calling her to a crime scene. She has to trip over a corpse, and our knowing the truth puts the spotlight on Charlie's dogged pursuit. In the end, at that shecaughtem, Charlie has stumbled a step ahead. If Lyonne is riffing Peter Falk, it's lovingly subversive. 

Your content warnings: This is no cozy. The murders are on-screen and sometimes violent, though the camera cuts away from most blood and guts stuff. The language is salty. The humor is slant and situational, not constant one-liners. It all suits the vibe.

Every week also brings a new crop of guest stars. No A+ Listers here. Even if the budget could swing one, an A Lister kills the working actor homage to the 70s mystery heyday. Columbo had his William Shatner, Julie Newmar, Roddy McDowell, and Valerie Harper. Charlie Cale goes up against waves of folks you'll know or maybe recognize--and more's the fun. 

And damn, Poker Face is fun.


  1. I've been on the fence, too, but I think you convinced me. I'll give it a try. Thanks!

    1. It's worth it. Just be in a mood for something different.

  2. Someday I am going to get "devices" that can do all this streaming and stuff and then I will be modern like you! Series sounds good!


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