TV Series: Poker Face


Every Chinese New Year we will choose a new TV series to binge. Previous years we have done Succession, The Leftovers and Station Eleven. We have been on a roll and I am careful of what I choose to watch over the holidays. No way am I going to choose a dud. This year I chose Poker Face.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s I really loved watching murder mysteries that are neatly wrapped up in one episode. After dinner I would quickly complete my homework and then parked myself in front of the TV for shows like Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. Sometimes at the end of a solid episode I would get a phone call. I would shout over the din that it’s mine and proceeded to pick up the phone and uttered: “OMG! That was so good!” and my friend would reply the same and then we would go on to deconstruct the episode of Columbo. Oh… the memories.

Poker Face is a lovely throwback to these weekly installments of murder mysteries. In fact, If you mix Columbo with Touched By an Angel, you get Poker Face. Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) has a super power - she can see BS in a split second. In short, she is a human lie detector. Together with her faithful Plymouth Barracuda, she will journey across the small towns of America and with every stop she will encounter a new cast of characters and strange crimes she can’t help but investigate and solve.

The narrative framework of every episode is the same. We see the crime, the victim, the perpetrator and how it all went down, but we don’t get to see how Charlie fits into it. After the theme music and the title card (if I am not mistaken, the font of the words is the same as Columbo’s), we then get to see how Charlie is related to the victim.

This is practically the Natasha Lyonne show. Her blasé attitude and world-weariness have a way to catching people she meets unawares. A thin halo of optimism envelopes her character as she journeys on the road of redemption by helping people. She is a colourful character, likewise with the array of vivid characters who cross paths with her.

The show might be a homage to classic murder mysteries of the 70s and 80s, but there is a sense of modern aesthetics to it because of the cinematography and the off-beat dialogue. This is a show that manages to ride the fine line between being all serious and utter camp, never falling into any of the categories. It has an all-knowing vibe like it knows all the tropes but will playfully mix it all up to surprise you at different turns.

Not all the episodes hit the groove. For me, there are two weak episodes that miss a resounding closure. But that’s just 2 out of 10. The rest of the episodes and colourful characters pepper over the shortcoming.

If you are a pop-culture aficionado you are going to get a hoot catching all the movie and music references and how the tropes are tweaked. In this current TV landscape, this comes as a huge surprise with no woke BS, just clever entertainment for you to work your brain. Bring on S2!