POKER FACE: SEASON ONE
Starring: Natasha Lyonne
Creator: Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson must be one of the best directors to work with because he got every celebrity and their mama to bring audiences back to a Columbo-style procedural. Poker Face is nothing more than your weekly whodunit, but without the mystery. They unveil that part quickly, then recap it through the lie-detecting Charlie’s (Natasha Lyonne) eyes alongside your special guest(s) of the week. It’s a simple show with an underused overarching story, but damn, it was entertaining. I loved watching every week, eyes glued while hoping that just once Charlie would turn around and say, “just one more thing.”
There’s no denying that Rian Johnson’s Poker Face is imperfect. For one, the color grading lacks a certain pop, and your patience for it really depends on how much you enjoy Natasha Lyonne, which will either carry you through the show’s narrative missteps or won’t. Personally, I can’t help but get sucked into the week-to-week mysteries as written by Johnson or shot by cinematographer Steve Yedlin, whose work is quickly becoming some of my favorite to watch as it evolves. The macro story of the season isn’t as well-woven as the micro stuff, but damn this show has undeniable charm.
To me, Natasha Lyonne is the definition of “a little goes a long way,” and Poker Face is A LOT of Lyonne doing her schtick while solving mysteries. The “case of the week” is never all that interesting either since we see the crime happen to start each episode, so the real mystery is in how Charlie (Lyonne) discovers a truth that we already know. After a few episodes, it grows tiresome and repetitive, with the only real draw being the major guest stars. Lastly, the central hook of Charlie always knowing when someone is lying because…of reasons?… is silly, quite frankly.
Rian Johnson’s new series, Poker Face, positions Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) as the Benoit Blanc of this specific whodunit universe. It’s an episodic, case-of-the-week show that’s clever while also delivering classic detective work. By having the crimes played out in front of you first, then having Charlie piece together the puzzle to solve the mystery really sucks you in to see what next week’s crime has in store. That said, the series can’t maintain its tension, and it relies too heavily on its revolving guest stars to keep its recipe fresh instead of adding to Charlie’s overall story.
Poker Face proves my long-held theory: director Rian Johnson is a maddening genius. Weekly, he’s able to take us on a ride with his Columbo-style, mystery-of-the-week thriller that’s funny while constantly pulling the rug out from underneath us. With a different cast of characters surrounding the infectious Natasha Lyonne every week, this easily could’ve gotten repetitive…and maybe binge-watching would have made it feel that way…but I couldn’t get enough of this show from the first episode to the shocking finale. I will be there on Day One for Season Two.