It’s no secret that Peacock is the black sheep of the streaming family. While companies like Netflix and Disney Plus have extensive and excellent back catalogs, Peacock’s lack of top-notch originals has meant audiences have shunned it in favor of its more popular cousins.
Now, however, the NBC Universal streamer has a truly amazing TV show to rival its competitors: poker face. The idea of Rian Johnson (knife out, war of stars), poker face is a sensationally good comedy crime series that can do more than fill it knife out-shaped emptiness in your life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the best Peacock show ever — and one that will finally convince you to sign up for the service.
The truth is out there
poker face Stars Natasha Lyonne (Russian doll) as Charlie Cale, a drifter who possesses the seemingly supernatural ability to detect lies. Or, in Cale’s catchphrase-like terms, when a person “pips” them.
When Charlie is accidentally involved in the death of a casino owner, she is forced to go on the run to avoid casino security chief and hitman Cliff LeGrand (Benjamin Bratt). Along the way, Charlie becomes involved in case-of-the-week-style murder mysteries, allowing her to regularly, albeit reluctantly, put her innate skills to good use.
Given Johnson’s involvement – poker face marks his first foray into television – there are striking parallels between Charlie and knife outis Benoit Blanc. The duo are exceptional detectives, but not as emotionally disconnected as, say, Sherlock Holmes. Instead, it’s their “everyman” personalities – complete with their comically awkward ability to engage in murder-based escapades – that make Charlie and Blanc sympathetic, entertaining individuals.
However, this is where the similarities end. Where from knife out and his successor – glass onion – are positioned as Agatha Christie-inspired detectives, poker face acts as a “howcatcher”. It is a term that is colloquially attributed columbo-like shows and movies where viewers watch the murder, learn the identity of the perpetrator, and then watch the detective put the pieces of the puzzle together. Think of it the other way around knife out and you will *um* deduce what I mean.
not how columbo, Charlie is not a typical detective. She’s essentially a walking polygraph, not a qualified detective, which doesn’t help much when it comes to solving complicated murders. Still, Charlie’s sheer determination to get the truth out (with the help of some excellent supporting characters, but more on that later) and her ability to spot people’s lies make her incredibly effective in a job she would be tailor-made for.
part of poker faceThe great appeal of is its ability to involve its audience in its mysteries as well.
Yes, we see every killer carrying out their crime, so we’re already a step ahead of Charlie when it comes to who the culprit is. However, keen-eyed viewers can spot the clues that point to the killer’s motives, his careless discarding of evidence, and other pieces of the puzzle that Charlie must uncover in order to solve the mystery. It makes for entertaining, participatory viewing, especially when some seemingly important clues turn out to be red herrings.
There were a few instances where I thought I had solved the events leading up to the murders in various episodes just because that piece of evidence was superfluous. They made me look amusingly goofy, but that’s part of it poker faces charm. It wants to subvert your expectations of a detective-based series, and the inclusion of bluffs usually shows how intelligently it’s put together.
intensification of the investigation
poker faceThe clever and intricate storytelling of is woven throughout the run – at least throughout the six entries I’ve seen so far. Sure, it’s primarily positioned as a howcatchem, but it’s a genre carpet that borrows from thrillers, horror productions, and slapstick comedies to set itself apart from its peers.
It helps that Charlie is an engaging and compelling character. Lyonne’s quirky, extroverted protagonist is a firecracker on screen whose jokes and sinister observations make her instantly likeable. Charlie isn’t an archetypal heroine by any means – she squanders the opportunity to train as a detective throughout the series – but she is a do-gooder nonetheless; a quality that makes it worth investing in your trip.
And what a journey it is. From her expository origin story in the premiere – as revealed by guest star Adrian Brody – to the sixth episode, poker face effortlessly convinces you to enjoy the ride. Charlie’s cross-country foray, all in the name of bypassing Bratt’s Cliff, gets her into all sorts of weird and wonderfully hilarious situations, with each episode acting like a chapter-based pit stop as she speeds along in her trusty Plymouth Barracuda.
Whether it’s the criminals in question, characters who help Charlie uncover the truth, or just gorgeous cameos. poker faceThe support ensemble of is as eccentric, disturbing and endearingly unlikable as it gets.
From Brody’s selfish Sterling Frost and Hong Chaus’s weird truck driver Marge to Lil Rey Howery’s charmingly devilish Taffy and Simon Helberg’s cranky FBI agent Luca. poker face is full of stars. Each of the series’ 40 notable actors provide their characters with plenty of humor, drama, action, menace, sadness and belonging.
They bounce off brilliantly at Lyonne’s Charlie, regardless of the depth of their conversations with poker face‘s also guide, chew the scenery and deliver some insanely funny moments as they go. Not many creatives could turn a diner scene about a truck driver’s fox logo or a canine pal who loves listening to xenophobic radio stations into a hilarious must-see TV program. Johnson, co-showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman and poker faceHowever, the broader writing team of absolutely nailed it. I guarantee you’ll be laughing out loud at least three times (if not more) per episode.
No matter how much good Charlie does, the ever-present threat of Bratt’s Cliff also means she’s never safe. This isn’t a show where the protagonist can roam the United States solving murders and making friends along the way. With Cliff on her tail, Charlie is always looking over her shoulder; the elaborate cat-and-mouse game that follows adds a constant undercurrent of tension throughout.
poker face is not a complete knockout. The anthology-based style of its episodes means some entries are weaker than others, with narrative cohesion and the occasionally irksome character choice being among my complaints.
The show’s release schedule – four episodes airing on the day of release – means that by episode four I got a little tired of Poker Face’s formula. Sure, Episode 4’s story was still mostly entertaining, but its explanatory story hits and other creative flaws (like the cushy nature of Charlie’s arrival) took away some of the enjoyment. with poker face‘s remaining episodes will be released weekly from now on, I hope these problems will resolve themselves.
poker face feels like a landmark moment for Peacock. NBCU’s streamer is far from the best streaming service, and that’s largely due to its lack of must-see movies and shows.
However, Rian Johnson’s first TV series could be the genesis of Peacock. Similarly this stranger things made Netflix the world’s most popular streamer, right Teddy Lasso that it was worth subscribing to Apple TV Plus, poker face is the Show that will turn Peacock’s fortunes.
Fans of Johnson’s earlier work will come for his signature style. Some viewers will be intrigued by comparisons knife out. Other viewers might even be drawn to the ’70s aesthetic and callbacks to a bygone era of detective storytelling. Combined, these elements result poker face one of the most surprising (and best!) shows of 2023 so far — and you can bet I’ll be back for more comedy mishaps with Charlie if poker face gets another season or two.
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Poker Face is now available to stream on Peacock in the US and City TV Plus in Canada. It’s not currently available in the UK and Australia, but if it releases in those territories it will likely end up on Now TV (UK) and Stan (Australia).