If you were to go in and digitally delete all smartphones from the new Peacock Poker Face series, it could air alongside Columbo and The Rockford Files on NBC’s 1970s primetime lineup. Co-creators Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne dust off the squeaky old format – the mystery of the week, strewn with guest stars – and give it a stylish twist, paying homage to TV detective shows with a touch of noir and irony. past. However, even if you weren’t born at the time, Poker Face (debuting this Thursday; I’ve seen the first five episodes) is still a quirky and smart pastime based on yet another endearingly irreverent performance by Lyonne.
Here she plays Charlie Cale, a cocktail waitress from Reno who drinks beer and has a unique gift: she can always tell if someone is lying. (Charlie yells “Bulls-t” so often that it practically becomes her catchphrase.) This skill comes in handy in certain situations, but can also get her into trouble, and after things get messed up in Reno, she hits the road. in his vintage Plymouth Barracuda, bumping into more kills and more colorful weirdos along the way. She’s on the run from a vengeful casino boss so she can’t stay in one place for too long, but she can’t help but use her gift to bring killers to justice.
Each episode of Poker Face is a new story with a new mystery and new suspects, with Charlie from Lyonne serving as the connective tissue. We see full crime first, like we did in Colombo, so there’s not much pressure on the detectives, but we still want to see Charlie deal with it using his superhuman lie-detection skills. After a premiere chock-full of clues and twists, Poker Face transitions into a laid-back vibe, with the laid-back Lyonne setting the tone. We get a bit of an ongoing plot with consequences from Reno, but basically every week starts afresh like its own mini-movie – which, frankly, is a nice break from today’s over-serialized TV dramas.
Johnson, who has just starred in Netflix’s hit film The Glass Bow, directs the premiere as his camera dances with nimble pans and zooms. The script is a cool throwback spiced up with brief threats and dry humor, but Charlie plays a caustic, skeptical fly in the ointment, almost like a modern-day time traveler who finds herself in a 70s crime drama. As the show’s sole star, Lyonne has to carry it all on her shoulders – and she does it superbly. She’s a sassy, assertive charm as Charlie, yelling out accusations and wisecracks with her signature Noo Yawk rasp. (She can even share the dog scene and make it work.) I must say that after she completely charmed me in Orange Is the New New Black and Russian Doll, I almost always watched Lyonne read the phone book. so your mileage here may vary.
Your tolerance for Poker Face’s sluggish pace can also vary, with episodes typically lasting over an hour, and extended opening scenes detailing each week’s crimes can run nearly 20 minutes before Charlie even makes it to town. Naturally, some mysteries are more intriguing than others, but guest stars are always a treat: Hong Chau as a street trucker, John Ratzenberger as the kind car mechanic, Chloe Sevigny as a Courtney Love-style rocker desperate for another hit single. (Episode 5, in which Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson play ex-hippies in a nursing home, is special.) Poker Face doesn’t really break anything new, but the possibilities it covers are still plenty. fertile, apparently. We might have more than three TV channels to choose from these days… but sometimes it’s nice to revisit a classic.
TVLINE SUMMARY: Poker Face is a loving throwback to the 70s detective series that works thanks to the winning lead role of Natasha Lyonne.