Rian Johnson has solidified himself as a modern-day murder mystery king. With the success of his Oscar nominated films Knives Out (2019) and Glass Onion (2022), Johnson made his television series debut with his creation of the Peacock Original Poker Face. The 10-part mystery series premiered Thursday, January 26 on the streaming service starring Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange Is the New Black) as the lead character Charlie Cale.
Poker Face follows Charlie going from a casino waitress in Nevada to a vagrant on the run when her extraordinary ability to determine when someone is lying gets her into trouble. The series takes viewers cross country with Charlie as she goes from state to state in her Plymouth Barracuda taking odd jobs and unintentionally solving strange crimes along the way. The premiere of the show rolled out with four episodes entertaining enough to warrant excitement for what’s to come.
The first episode finds Charlie working at Frost Casino in Nevada run by Sterling Frost Jr. (Adrien Brody) with Cliff Legrand (Benjamin Bratt) as his head of security. Charlie is an intuitive and nonchalant gambling pariah who calls out BS effortlessly with a gift of identifying the truth that even she can’t explain. The untimely death of her close friend Natalie (played by Lyonne’s Orange Is the New Black co-star Dascha Polanco) sets off a chain of events that leaves Charlie running for her life and leaving town.
Natasha Lyonne plays Charlie in a way that only could be played by her. Her signature raspy voice combined with Charlie’s flair for stumbling on the truth makes her a must watch character. Charlie is the perfect combination of Columbo and Benoit Blanc with subtle humor often saying out loud what you might be thinking while watching the show. The decisions she makes are rooted in her being a genuinely caring person to those who face injustice and holding people accountable for their devious tendencies.
Poker Face features an all-star cast of colorful characters paired with Charlie that gives enthralling performances transporting viewers directly into the world of the episode. Hong Chau plays a trucker framed for murder, Lil Rel Howery plays a BBQ restauranteur in Texas wanting to expand his brand and will do anything to accomplish it, Chloë Sevigny plays a washed-up rocker trying to live past her one hit wonder days, and the upcoming episodes have many more guest star appearances. Nick Nolte, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ron Perlman, Stephanie Hsu, Ellen Barkin, Jameela Jamil, Tim Meadows, Judith Light, Clea DuVall and more are slated to appear in the show.
Poker Face takes a different approach to the classic murder mystery trope. Usually when the murder is committed, the audience is taken through the crime along with the detective in charge of solving it, but in Charlie Cale’s case, she isn’t associated with any form of law enforcement and makes that clear often. There also isn’t any mystery per se involved in the show because the viewer knows who was murdered, why, and who did it early in the episodes. So why would a show like this even work? Credit must go to Rian Johnson and his team of skilled writers.
The special thing about Poker Face is how much detail truly went into the series. Nothing is by chance. Every moment and every encounter in the episodes down to the minutest detail plays into Charlie figuring out the crimes, which is the intriguing aspect of the show. Watching Charlie’s mind work shows how much you can uncover if you’re really paying attention to the things around you. By the end of the premiere four episodes, you’ll be hooked on Poker Face anxiously waiting to see what kind of case Charlie will stumble on next.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em
Since Poker Face provides episodes that standalone, the longevity of this series can be infinite. There’s the impending doom and underlying theme of Charlie being on the run and that the people who are after her will eventually catch up, but each episode brings new characters and new locations making the show feel refreshed each time. It’s also great watching the episodes knowing you’ll be getting a complete story with no cliffhangers. You’ll know exactly what happens to the people responsible for the murders.
Jaron Presant, Christine Ng, and Steve Yedlin do an outstanding job with the cinematography creating the clean and crisp aesthetic of the show. The different locations in each episode add to the uniqueness of each case Charlie ends up solving before law enforcement steps in. The music in Poker Face also elevates the dynamic of the cases. Judson Crane composes the show brilliantly, but his work specifically in episode 3, “The Stall,” is remarkable. Larry Brown plays a character named George Boyle who compares grilling meat to a symphony for how the flavors come together. That notion is expanded through music while Charlie figures out a key point in episode 3. It’s so well done.
Poker Face is a captivating murder mystery series that challenges viewers to take into account how well they’re aware of what’s happening around them. I could watch countless episodes of this show; no BS.
New episodes of Poker Face air Thursdays through March exclusively on Peacock.
Amber Dover is a multimedia journalist with over a decade writing about pop culture. Cat mom with a deep love of horror, you can follow Amber at @Glambergirlblog on Instagram and Twitter.
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