Do you love ‘Columbo’? You’ll Devour ‘Poker Face’ TV Comfort Food

“Poker Face,” a new series starring Natasha Lyonne and created by “Knives Out”/“Glass Onion” Rian Johnson, is a work of pure delight, a mystery comedy with roots stretching back half a century in its heyday. . of open television. Its specific background is “Columbo,” whose opening credits are apes, in which we first see the murder, and then see the star bring the killer to justice; and “The Fugitive,” in which Lyonne’s character runs away and finds herself in a new place, wrapped up in a new drama, every week. (I say drama, which is true enough given that people get killed, but “Poker Face,” which opens Thursday on Peacock, is mostly comedy and always funny.)

It is also harkening back to an earlier time in that it is firmly episodic and formulaic. That’s not to say it’s uninspired: What keep the formula from becoming formulaic are the writing, acting, and staging, which tell us a lot in a short amount of time without feeling overtly expository or manipulative. But each episode has a similar form, an agenda. Streaming made serials de rigueur; here you are drawn not by a cliffhanger but by a variation of what you liked last week. There are still plenty of these shows on network TV, usually sitcoms and procedurals, where an issue is created and resolved between the opening and closing credits, but it’s rare to find them on a streaming platform.

Detection (amateur) suits Lyonne. “Russian Doll”, the series that, after “Orange Is the New Black”, cemented her return to the limelight (she became famous as a young woman, but there were later years in a personal and professional nature), was also a story of Mystery: A mystical detective show in which his Nadia needed to find out why she kept dying in the first season and traveling through time in the second. “Poker Face,” for all its smarts and hip attitude, is about as understated as can be, simply and expertly made to be enjoyed: comfort food, not “elevated,” but delicious.

Like Charlie, Lyonne is the only regular character in the series, although Benjamin Bratt appears as her pursuer, a head of security employed by the casino where we meet her working as a waitress. The pilot sets the terms of her flight, which are too much spoiler to spell, but there’s a murder, and by solving it, Charlie incurs the wrath of a powerful person (voiced by Ron Perlman). It’s a stellar turn, which is to say that the actress herself is inextricable from fun, the case with most successful detective series. Her vibe runs from Brooklyn to the Borscht Belt—like Peter Falk’s Colombo, she’s Jewish from New York—and she comes across onscreen as colorful, friendly, eccentric, determined, existentially scruffy, and, if we can digress for a Yiddish word , heimish, even when his character is irritating or troublesome. She’s like a guy, aunty doesn’t really get it, that she tells jokes you can’t always follow and every once in a while she’ll lean over to pick a nickel out of your ear.

Like Nadia, Charlie is special. She has a non-supernatural superpower: the ability to tell when a person is lying. We learn that before serving drinks at the Frost casino and living in a trailer in the desert, she used this ability to win a lot of money playing poker; but that part of her life has been forced to a conclusion, which she doesn’t care about at all.

Still, at the start of the series, the casino is being run by the owner’s son, played by Adrien Brody, who has discovered its secret and has a proposition that will make her rich.

“I’ve been rich,” says Charlie.

“How was it?”

“Easier than being broke. Harder than doing it right.”

Once we see the murder, its staging, its execution, we go back a bit in time to discover that Charlie has already entered the scene. She could be working a low-key job: waitressing at a dinner theater, cooking at a cookout, assistant at a retirement home, selling merch on a little sad rock tour, or stuck in town for the night. night while his Plymouth Barracuda is being repaired. But she’s been around long enough to make a connection. Charlie is a sociable, friendly and talkative creature, which, combined with her innate sense of right and wrong, makes her unable to help herself where help is needed. (She’ll even take care of a stray dog ​​who seems to hate her.) “I think that in another life you were like a gentleman,” a friend tells him. “Lady Galahad”.

With his built-in bull detector, Charlie also can’t rest when something seems wrong, so he’ll become attached to a problem: getting to the bottom of what looks like an accident, death from natural causes, suicide, or murder. hands of someone already in custody, until she figures it out. She has the unfortunate habit of explaining to the murderer or murderers how they did it, without the power of a policeman, and then hanging their handcuffs on them, so she regularly puts herself in danger.

However, he manages to deliver some form of justice in each episode before moving on to the next scenario, where, again, someone will be killed. The absurd frequency with which this happens might, one would think, be cause for comment (she is a compulsive commentator and born ironist), but such is the lot of the incidental detective, from Miss Marple to Father Brown to Jessica Fletcher.

Moody settings and a charming guest cast, including John Ratzenberger, Lil Rel Howery, Tim Meadows, Ellen Barkin, S. Epatha Merkerson, Judith Light, John Hodgman, Chloë Sevigny, Simon Helberg, Hong Chau and K Callan (The Old Lady at Johnson’s “Knives Out”) – Keep “Poker Face” colorful and fresh. Putting aside the essentially magical talent that will help Charlie crack a case, not everything is entirely plausible, and the mechanics of the murders, which go as far as the Great Book of Establishing an Alibi, can feel a bit familiar. But with 136 years of mystery stories since Sherlock Holmes opened his shop, how could it be otherwise? And familiarity, which breeds satisfaction as easily as contempt, is partly the point. Although it will be mentioned more than once to Charlie that she’s not on a TV show, of course she is. That’s why we’re here, and why we stay.

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