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Natasha Lyonne in Rian Johnson Peacock Collection – The Hollywood Reporter

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In 2023 TV phrases, it’s onerous to say which represents the larger inventive danger: a half-hour dramedy that includes temporal disruptions, Jewish mysticism and Harry Nilsson, or an hour-long trustworthy replica — proper right down to the title font — of the type of character-driven crime procedurals that have been fashionable within the ’70s and ’80s and undoubtedly aren’t in vogue at this time.

Let’s simply say that Natasha Lyonne doesn’t play it protected. Lower than a 12 months after launching the surprisingly stable second season of Netflix’s Russian Doll, Lyonne is again on the small display as star and govt producer of Peacock’s Poker Face, from creator Rian Johnson and showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman.

Poker Face

The Backside Line

Nostalgic allure, tight mysteries and a enjoyable star flip.

Airdate: Thursday, January 26 (Peacock)
Solid: Natasha Lyonne
Creator: Rian Johnson

The format for Poker Face is so apparently unusual and off-putting — a present with standalone mysteries… on streaming… on this financial system? — that even Peacock doesn’t fairly know how one can deal with it, launching the sequence with a four-episode binge that almost negates its total watch-every-week ethos.

I don’t suppose you should know the rhythms and construction of Columbo or Rockford Recordsdata to get Poker Face any kind of than you should acknowledge the rhythms and construction of Dashiell Hammett to get Brick or the rhythms and construction of Agatha Christie to get Knives Out. (You do NOT need to go head-to-head with Rian Johnson in a recreation of thriller storytelling karaoke.) Nevertheless it in all probability helps, no less than initially. Poker Face can be very standard if we have been in a time loop, nevertheless it’s often odd by way of the way it takes its inspirations and repurposes them for a streaming world.

In a few of the six episodes despatched to critics, the pacing is a bit off, and the present’s finest useful resource — a magnificently skeptical Lyonne — is nearly underused. Within the steadiness, the present is a enjoyable romp that includes nice visitor stars and a few fastidiously detailed puzzles. It’s a whodunit fan’s delight — for TV thriller followers, by TV thriller followers.

Poker Face begins with an intensive — 67 minutes, earlier than Peacock begins tossing adverts in — premise pilot, written and directed by Johnson. It establishes Lyonne as Charlie Cale, cocktail waitress at a barely tawdry Vegas on line casino far off the Strip. When one thing very unhealthy occurs to Charlie’s good friend Natalie (Dascha Polanco), Charlie begins to poke round, a lot to the chagrin of the on line casino’s reptilian supervisor (a wonderfully slimy Adrien Brody) and skulking head of safety (Benjamin Bratt). Charlie has no expertise as a gumshoe. What she does have is an infallible inside lie detector, a present or curse that has gotten her into quite a lot of hassle previously.

The pilot concludes with Charlie on the run, organising the precise present, during which she goes from city to city in her beat-up, powder-blue Plymouth Barracuda, taking odd jobs and fixing murders in every single place she goes. This, after all, makes her extra like a mix of Jessica Fletcher (a gaggle of crime drama-watching previous girls in a single episode are even referred to as The Fletchers) and Caine from Kung Fu (referenced in a Pulp Fiction scene featured within the pilot) than the extra stationary Columbo. She nonetheless makes use of her truth-spotting powers to assist her get justice, however regardless of a heavy emphasis within the pilot, it isn’t some magical present that all the things hinges on and, in truth, after an extended expositional clarification in that first episode, the necessity to spell it out diminishes with every subsequent installment.

Following in that Columbo footprint, episodes of Poker Face are extra “howcatchem” than “whodunit.” After the title and a listing of episodic visitor stars, we see the fee of the crime, earlier than backtracking to indicate how Charlie got here to be there and what her emotional involvement was. At no level within the first six episodes does Charlie categorical concern that she has change into a magnet for homicide, however that’s in all probability coming quickly — in all probability with a Homicide, She Wrote acknowledgment, as a result of if there’s something Poker Face loves greater than a recognizable visitor star committing homicide, it’s a nerdy popular culture nod. Though the occasions of the pilot would appear to be traumatizing, subsequent episodes instantly set a far lighter tone, and the one actual continuity comes from occasional, utterly pointless appearances by Bratt’s character, whom the sequence needs to concurrently depict as horribly menacing and remarkably simple to evade.

Episodes are lengthy, however diminishing, beginning at 62 minutes for the second installment, however right down to 46 by the sixth. Johnson and subsequent scribes benefit from the additional working time by stretching the prologues, which means that you simply get a number of episodes during which Lyonne doesn’t make her first look till between 15 and 20 minutes in. Throw in a number of episodes which have considerably anti-climactic endings, precipitated maybe by the inconsistency of Charlie’s precise investigative abilities, and also you’re perhaps solely 20 or 25 minutes of Natasha Lyonne cracking clever and following clues per episode. If that occurs to be the factor you’re tuning in for, the steadiness could be a little disappointing. It’s such an outstanding automobile for Lyonne’s trademark schtick — Charlie will get irritated with Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Tony winners and alt-right canine with equally quizzical pleasure — that the prioritizing of construction over star doesn’t all the time work.

It helps, although, that the standalone mysteries are stable. With most broadcast procedurals nowadays, the format fails as a result of the cases-of-the-week stink — sure, I’m you, Fox’s Alert: Lacking Individuals Unit. Nevertheless it isn’t stunning that with Johnson main the cost, the Poker Face mysteries are fastidiously constructed and environment friendly, attuned sufficient to clues and pink herrings to maintain viewers guessing as to how issues will resolve.

Perhaps they aren’t of equal advantage, however there isn’t a straight-up dud in these half-dozen episodes. I favored visitor stars Megan Suri and Colton Ryan — plus a hilarious Hong Chau — within the second episode, which entails an ill-fated love triangle on a distant stretch of New Mexico highway. That episode, written by Russian Doll veteran Alice Ju, additionally has the purest distillation of Lyonne’s sensibility. I loved the BBQ-centric episode that includes Lil Rel Howery and liked the performances in a later episode with Judith Mild and S. Epatha Merkerson as ’70s political revolutionaries now dwelling in a retirement house. The sixth episode, with Ellen Barkin and Tim Meadows as former TV co-stars reuniting for one evening of neighborhood theater, is filled with amusing inside baseball particulars. I assume that leaves “Relaxation in Steel,” that includes Chloe Sevigny because the vicious frontman of a one-hit-wonder band as my least favourite.

Usually, the sequence has a assured throwback type, with stable location taking pictures and the occasional ’70s flourish — an sudden zoom or whatnot — as a reminder of the undertaking’s origins. Perhaps I didn’t love Poker Face fairly as a lot as I wished to, nevertheless it’s doing its odd factor with nice enthusiasm and I can simply see the way it may get an increasing number of comfy with its derivative-but-distinctive voice. And don’t hearken to Peacock. Watch the primary two after which deal with your self to 1 episode per week. It’s what Lieutenant Columbo would need.

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