Charlie Cale (Poker Face)

Created by Rian Johnson

Writer/director Rian Johnson may just be the best undercover friend the P.I. genre has had in a long, long time.

First he gave us 2005’s Brick, a sly reworking of noir tropes, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage would-be Marlowe working his wall through the mean hallways of his high school. Then Johnson dished up Knives Out, a 2019 crowd-pleaser which introduced former Bond Daniel Craig as foppish, Southern-fried private detective Benoit Blanc. The obligatory sequel, Glass Onion, followed in December 2002.

Just weeks later in January 2023, Johnson’s latest foray into the crime and mystery genre, Poker Face, made its debut. No, Natasha Lyonne’s CHARLIE CALE  isn’t playing a P.I.

Nope.

Or, not exactly. She’s more P.I.-adjacent, a wise-cracking former casino worker and full-time shit magnet with a cool car (a blue 1969 Plymouth Barracuda) who’s on the run from assorted parties on both sides of the law.

The hook is that Charlie’s a human lie detector, who somehow knows immediately if someone’s bullshitting or not. She used that to make a living point as a professional gambler, but that lead to seriously pissing off a casino owner or two. So she kept her head down, eking out a living as a cocktail waitress while living in a trailer (shades of Rockford!) out in the desert. Things go seriously awry, though, when her best friend is murdered, and Charlie has to go on the lam (it’s complicated). Fortunately for viewers, she conveniently stumbles into a murder that needs solving every episode.

It’s a conscious effort by Johnson to evoke the the “case-of-the-week” TV format of his youth, with a lot of the press namedropping Columbo and The NBC Mystery Movie (1971-77) as inspirations, but if anything, the premise makes me think more of The Fugitive (1961-67), which also featured someone on the run who conveniently trips over trouble on a weekly basis. That one starred David Janssen and was created by Roy Huggins.

Lyonne, as Charlie, is a wonder to behold; a cynical, world-weary grump with major detective chops who can seemingly solve crimes wherever she goes. She’s also a irrepressible motormouth, constantly muttering and cracking wise whether anyone’s listening or not, reportedly drawing inspiration from Elliott Gould’s portrayal of Philip Marlowe in Robert Alman’s The Long Goodbye.

Adding to the fun is an impressive and colourful ensemble cast (shades of the Knives Out movies) which includes (so far) Benjamin Bratt as a casino head of security who has it in for Charlie, Ellen Barkin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tim Meadows, Nick Nolte, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, Luis Guzmán and Rhea Perlman. Not bad…

I’ve only seen clips and a “sneak peek,” but I’ve got high hopes for this one. Plus, it stars Natasha Friggin’ Lyonne, who delivers more spunk in one line than a whole season of chattering neo-noir femme fatales can cough up.

Mind you, Poker Face is on Peacock, NBC’s much derided streaming service, so it’ll be a struggle to break through the streaming noise. Let’s hope it does…

TELEVISION

  • POKER FACE
    (2023, Peacock)
    Created by Rian Johnson
    Writers: Rian Johnson
    Directors: Rian Johnson, Natasha Lyonne herself,Janicza Bravo
    Executive producers: Rian Johnson, Ram Bergman, Natasha Lyonne, Nena Rodrigue, Nora Zuckerman, Lilla Zuckerman
    Starring Natasha Lyonne as CHARLIE CALE
    and Adrien Brody
    Also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stephanie Hsu, David Castañeda, Benjamin Bratt, Danielle Macdonald, Dascha Polanco, Lil Rel Howery, Ellen Barkin, Chloë Sevigny, Jameela Jamil, Tim Meadows, Audrey Corsa, Niall Cunningham, Hong Chau, Simon Helberg, S. Epatha Merkerson, Judith Light, Nick Nolte, Ron Perlman, Charles Melton, Tim Blake Nelson, Noah Segan, Cherry Jones, Luis Guzmán, Rhea Perlman, Clea DuVall, Colton Ryan, Brandon Michael Hall

    • SEASON ONE
    • “TBA” (January 26, 2023)
    • “TBA” (January 26, 2023)
    • “TBA” (January 26, 2023)
    • “TBA” (January 26, 2023)
    • “TBA” (February 2, 2023)
    • “TBA” (February 9, 2023)
    • “TBA” (February 16, 2023)
    • “TBA” (February 23, 2023)
    • “TBA” (March 2, 2023)
    • “TBA” (March 9, 2023)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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