Peacock’s new mystery-of-the-week series from Knives Out creator Rian Johnson is a must-watch for those who enjoy a satisfying story.
This article contains spoilers for the first episode of Poker Face.
If you’re looking for a clever, whodunnit mystery in the style of Knives Out and Glass Onion, you’ll want to tune into Poker Face, the newest project from the brain of writer and director Rian Johnson. Following the adventures of cocktail waitress turned amateur detective Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), who’s on the run from a powerful casino owner, Poker Face is Johnson’s first foray into scripted television. The show’s first four episodes dropped on Peacock on January 26, and critics are already singing the praises of its fun and nostalgic episode structure as well as Lyonne’s career-defining performance.
Scrappy, wisecracking protagonist Charlie possesses the ability to detect when someone is lying — which, as you can imagine, comes in handy when playing poker. Her unique skill captures the attention of casino owner Sterling Frost Sr. (Ron Perlman), who begins spreading the word through the gaming world that Charlie is a cheater. To keep her under his watchful eye, he offers her a job at the casino where she’s worked ever since.
All hell breaks loose when Sterling’s son (Adrien Brody), desperate to prove himself to his father, has Charlie’s coworker killed for accidentally walking in on a major scandal. Naturally inquisitive, Charlie starts poking around and learns the truth about the circumstances surrounding her friend’s death. Sterling Jr., exposed and with nowhere to run, throws himself off his balcony. Following the shocking events, Sterling Sr. calls Charlie and threatens to find her and make her pay for his son’s death. And just like that, Charlie commits to living a life on the run and off the grid.
Characteristic of Johnson’s untraditional and appropriately comedic mysteries, Poker Face lures viewers in with the promise of a satisfying conclusion that carefully connects all the dots it lays out. And, for those of us who are constantly left feeling as though the minutiae we pick up on and remember in shows and films never pays off, it’s a refreshing change of pace to watch something that rewards viewers who pay attention to details.
In a media landscape dominated by high-stakes serialized television, Poker Face leans into its identity as an episodic, mystery-of-the-week dramedy that’s more interested in giving viewers consistent closure than leading them down a rabbit hole of unanswered questions. When serials are committed to season-long story arcs, it’s easy for plot details to be forgotten. While Poker Face does have an overarching story driving the course of the show, each episode fleshes out its own individual story from beginning to end.
The benefit of Johnson’s choice to use an episodic format is that the viewer can count on the fact that every clue and minor detail is intentional, and will be explored by the time the episode ends. There is an unspoken agreement that since each episode is self-contained, every question will also have an answer. We are not left with cliffhangers, but with resolutions.
What, then, keeps viewers coming back when they know, more or less, how every episode will end? Well, Natasha Lyonne’s performance alone could save even the most tragic of scripts. She delivers every line with a sense of wit and whimsy that never lacks sincerity; her earnestness is palpable as we watch her put the pieces together before triumphantly solving the whole puzzle.
The writing is also not to be discounted. Johnson proves once again that mysteries are made better by treating viewers as active participants. Dedicated watchers won’t be led astray by paying attention to careful pacing, lingering camera shots, lighting choices, and turns of phrase. They will, instead, get to partake in Charlie’s vindication upon solving an elaborate mystery. And, though each episode may be structured in a similar manner, rest assured that you can never truly predict what direction Poker Face may take you.
Poker Face is now streaming on Peacock with new episodes airing every Thursday at 12:01 a.m. PST/3:01 a.m. EST.