Metro Weekly

“Poker Face” Review: True Lies

"Poker Face" strikes a timely, satisfying chord with Natasha Lyonne as a crime-solver who can see through anybody's BS.

Poker Face: Natasha Lyonne – Photo: Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock

Casino cocktail waitress Charlie Cale, the plucky protagonist of Peacock’s new series Poker Face (★★★★☆), can’t always tell why a person is lying, or whether they’re just omitting the truth that reveals their lies. But she can always detect bullshit when she hears it, a great gift to have in a world lousy with frauds and prevaricators.

It’s also a useful tool for anyone who just so happens to lead a life of righting wrongs and solving murders. Portrayed by that comedic original Natasha Lyonne, Charlie is no hard-boiled detective but she’s persistent to the point of peskiness, unfailingly decent, and clever in how she capitalizes on her gift to help others.

And not only do Charlie’s talents serve to balance the scales of justice, but a heroine who can always spot a lie also perfectly serves an adventurous mystery writer like Knives Out/Glass Onion mastermind Rian Johnson, who created Poker Face, and wrote and directed the pilot.

Johnson and showrunners Lilla and Nora Zuckerman (formerly producers on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) have struck upon a winning formula for their 10-part mystery series, sending Charlie on the run from casino bosses, and on the road in her vintage Plymouth Barracuda. Drifting off the beaten path through the Southwest, randomly befriending strangers, Charlie keeps getting herself perilously involved in murder cases.

Part of the fun and mystery is that going into each installment, there’s no way of knowing exactly how or when Charlie enters the story, or what will motivate her to put her butt on the line to solve a stranger’s murder.

The episodes — featuring at least one delicious guest star each week — start by introducing a cast full of potential suspects and victims, deftly setting the stage for foul play, with Charlie nowhere in sight.

Only after a dead body turns up does the story rewind a day or week or more to reveal when our human lie detector innocently entered the picture, and what her connection will be to the case at hand.

As with Johnson’s Knives Out, the plots are well-constructed and the characters resonate with humor and psychological complexity. Chloë Sevigny rocks as the lead singer of a punk band desperate to repeat the success of their one big hit.

Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson are a hoot as hippie revolutionary badasses living in a seniors facility. And The Whale‘s Hong Chau makes an indelible appearance in episode two as a trucker Charlie encounters in New Mexico.

Lyonne, fresh off a cameo in Glass Onion and two seasons of her time-twisting dramedy Russian Doll, anchors with ace delivery and nifty physical comedy. She and her stunt double(s) make spunky Charlie into some kind of wisecracking action hero, with a couple of knock-down, drag-out fights that leave her bloodied and bruised, but still firing one-liners.

The whole vibe is breezy, despite taut suspense and life-or-death stakes, something like a ’70s procedural in the vein of a Columbo or McMillan & Wife.

Who could have predicted Natasha Lyonne as an ideal Gen X Jessica Fletcher, and that such a prospect would be so compulsively entertaining? The series doesn’t spend any time in its first six episodes pondering where Charlie’s headed, or what she plans to do — she just keeps driving forward, certain to bring justice wherever she goes.

Through her, Poker Face taps into the deeply satisfying pleasure of seeing liars inarguably called out and held accountable. Charlie can’t even help herself most of the time. She hears a lie, and names it: “Bullshit.”

There’s a beauty in seeing the truth claimed and frauds shamed. You’ll wish you could take her everywhere.

Poker Face is available for streaming on Peacock, with new episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays. Visit


Poker Face
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