Poker Face is a star-studded and addictive case-of-the-week series

once upon a time At the time, most television was like poker facethe new Peacock drama he created glass onionRian Johnson starring Russian dollNatasha Lyonne. It’s a purely episodic, case-of-the-week show. Each episode makes up its own story, which Charlie Cale of Leon finds a way to wrap up by the end of the hour. There are some very loose ongoing threads, but you could theoretically watch every episode but the first in any order and get the same enjoyment out of every episode. It’s a show that relies heavily on the charisma of its star, and on the ability of Johnson and the other writers and directors to make each individual story so interesting that you’ll want to come back for more without any real hint. Continued.

For decades, that’s how television worked. Then it came along the wireAnd Too badAnd game of thrones, etc. And suddenly the case-of-the-week is outdated – simplified stuff from a time before we knew TV could be better. Sequence was the new king, and if every episode wasn’t contributing in some way to a larger story, what’s the point?

In many ways, television gained a lot from this shift. The best shows this century have managed to aim higher, dig deeper, and make incredible use of the massive amount of time it saves telling a single story about a single group of characters for years on end. But in other ways, we are really missing something. Sequencing became as much formulaic as it was purely episodic storytelling. Too many showrunners – whether they’re screenwriters trying to expand the plot of a movie they can’t sell, or just someone who took all the wrong lessons from watching the sopranosor I thought it would be easy to just copy it Too badStructural – You wrongly assume that an ongoing narrative is interesting primarily simply because it lasts for an entire season, or for an entire series. Complexity is treated as rewarding in itself, not because it adds any value to the story being told. So we get this long, amorphous sludge — “It’s a 10-hour movie!” Forget how to entertain because all they care about is forward momentum.

Thank God, then, to Johnson, Lyon, and everyone involved in making it poker face. It infuses all the best elements of times past, but in a way that makes the show feel completely modern – in the same way that it does Take out the knives And glass onion Inspired by the mysteries of Agatha Christie without the feel of earthy chops.

We learn that Charlie was once an unbeatable poker player thanks to an unusual and basically uncanny ability: She can always tell when someone is lying. Eventually, she messed up with the wrong people, and now works as a cocktail waitress at a Nevada casino, just trying to stay out of trouble. But as with these kinds of shows, trouble inevitably keeps on finding her, always in the form of a murder she can only solve, because she knows the killer is full of it.

The shape is a mixture of classic Colombo An open enigma and the approach Johnson took with Benoit Blanc’s films. Each episode starts with 10-15 minutes without Charlie, as we meet the killers and their victims and see how and why the killing happened. The stories then rewind to show how Charlie actually knows these characters, before we finally get to figure out what happened, as well as a way to make the bad guys see justice – even though Charlie isn’t a cop and, in fact, has to stay out of the law as the events of the first episode make her a fugitive. She has to travel anonymously from one city to another. (The only persistent element is that the casino enforcer, played by Benjamin Bratt, chases her around the country due to the events of the pilot, but even that is relatively minor and infrequent in episodes given to critics.)

Lil Rel Howery as Taffy in Poker Face.

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The settings and types of guest stars vary widely from episode to episode. In one, she has a job at a Texas barbecue run by Lil Rel Howery; In yet another, it’s a road for the one-hit heavy metal wonder, with Chloe Sevigny as the old lady itching to come back.

Although there was a little Lieutenant Peter Falk Colombo in Lyon Russian doll performanceAnd Charlie is a completely different personality: friendly and curious about people and the world around her. It’s a utterly magnetic and suspenseful performance, in which she’s so good on her own — say, tasting different types of wood to determine one of Lil Rel’s lies — that she interacts with stellar guest stars like Hong Chau (as an anti-social long-haul trucker) or Ellen Barkin (as the star of TV show from the 1980s now performing at a dinner theatre).

And like Blanc’s films, this is a show that uses every part of the buffalo. No matter how scrappy the scene might be – let’s say Charlie has an amusing encounter with a stranger in a trash can – it will eventually turn out to have some kind of significance to the plot. Everything is clever – including the many ways he manages to show the limits of being a human lie detector – and light on his feet.

That said, because shows like poker face become so rare–or at least, as well-executed as it is–there is a danger of overstating it. Like any episodic drama, some episodes are stronger than others, particularly in the Leon-less opening sequences. Episode V, for example, features Judith Light and S. The combination of this premise and these veteran actors is so powerful, I almost forgot I was waiting for Charlie. But the second episode, which features three people working the night shift in shops next to a truck stop, really takes off only once that familiar strawberry-blonde hair mop shows up. And even when they do appear, the flashbacks can sometimes leave you impatient to get to the part where Charlie begins to poke holes in the killer’s story. (Colombo Episodes tended to run between 70 and 100 minutes, and thus had more than enough time for Falk and the guest stars to interact; After an initial 67-minute episode that should establish Charlie’s backstory and premise, all the others were an hour or less, sometimes much less.)

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But damn, what a relief and exhilaration to see a TV show that actually wants to be a TV show, and that knows how to do it on such a high level. Johnson and Lyon said they would like to do so poker face for as long as possible. Here he hopes they will get a chance. that’s cool.

The first four episodes of poker face Airing Jan. 26 on Peacock, with additional episodes released weekly. I watched the first 6 episodes out of 10.


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