Poker Face - Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne do Columbo

Poker Face is a 10 episode detective series by Rian Johson, starring Natasha Lyonne.

Right from the first title card in yellow sans serif all caps you can tell that this is a Columbo homage. Show the crime, then show the crime being solved. But it’s not a straight up transplant of the formula, there’s all kinds of changes. The main character Charlie is not a cop, but a woman on the run from both powerful people and the law. It will often not be crimes in the homes of the rich and the powerful, but where-ever she can find a short-term gig that pays in cash and asks no questions. Since she is not a cop, it’s not like she is going to arrest anybody. There might even not be any “cop evidence” as the show repeatedly calls it. But hey, there’s plenty of other ways to punish the guilty.

Structurally, the storytelling is no longer linear but usually in three segments. First they show the crime, then they skip back in time to show how Charlie ended up involved in the situtation and her viewpoint of the crime, and finally the segment of solving it. It’s a pretty clever structure, though it was kind of confusing the first time around. And finally, the big gimmick (in a kind of inversion of Knives Out) is that Charlie can tell whether people are lying. Even in this short 10 episode season they play with all of these basic elements in all kinds of delightful ways.

In general, think going into this as a mystery show would be a mistake. There’s not enough meat in the mysteries for that, and honestly the episodes aren’t long enough either. The most mystery solving you’ll get to do is spot the subtle plot devices as soon as they come up. Instead it’s more like character heavy detective-themed comedy. A lot of good actors getting to chew scenery as guest stars, great character interactions, a bunch of laugh out loud episodes, and even the episodes that aren’t funny as a whole will have their comedic moments. The closest modern comparison would be to Only Murders in the Building, except with self-contained episodes rather than a seasonal arc.

I definitely recommend giving this a watch if any of the above sounds interesting. It’s not just that it’s a great conept, but it’s really well executed as well.

The first episode is a bit slow since they have a lot of setup to do, so I wouldn’t judge the series on that. I found episode 2 to be a bit weak as well, but the episode 3-6 run is particularly strong (the barbeque, the metal band, the nursing home and the actors). The last two episodes didn’t really work for me though. They’re technically just fine, but are just telling a very different kind of story than the earlier episodes and in a way that I didn’t find very satisfying (or, frankly, necessary).

We’re watching an episode every couple of days and are still loving it. We just finished the episode with the stage play/actors. Gotta admit that for the majority of that episode I was transfixed by Ellen Barkin’s massively altered face. Plastic surgery… yuck.

It’s formulaic and predictable, but well worth a watch for the unique scenarios and especially for Natasha Lyonne.

To each their own! I’m pretty tired of her persona & don’t find her all that charming, so I kinda watched the show despite her & more for the guest appearances.

I thought this was a fun show. The last episode was probably the weakest, but overall my wife and I enjoyed this. I did not enjoy all the commercials.

F3 Lady Gaga. Sad face.

I loved this show, and I’ll keep watching it as comfort food as long as they care to put out episodes.

I don’t know if Lyonne’s Columbo mannerisms got more prominent as the series progressed, or if I was just slow to pick them up, but by the halfway point I was laughing out loud at the cigar-chomping, palm on scalp, mumble-mouthed exasperation she was throwing down. It was great.

For posterity: this has been renewed for season 2 (a while ago.)

Same here - just perfect stuff, but I don’t know if I picked up on it in earlier episodes. I certainly did get some of that vibe though even in the first episode (like in the elevator after she had the coffee) so I think it was probably there all along.

I’m on episode 8 right now and I wanted to pop in here to both shout out the show in general (probably one of my favorite things I’ve seen in years, absolutely incredible and fun) but also to shout out Nick Nolte who is always great in stuff but he’s really tearing it up here, imo. Also, his eyes are startling green. Cripes. It’s distracting!

We’re finally getting to this and OMG two episodes in, we’re completely hooked. Nails the Columbo vibes and so far it’s just been so satisfying watching Charlie do her thing and nail the bad guy.

I watched the first episode over the weekend. Very unexpected. All this talk of Columbo had me expecting something like that. I wasn’t expecting super powers and a time jump. Those things never happened in Columbo!

OTOH, I loved the way the show is made to look like Columbo. I can’t quite put my finger on the technical details, but I think the color grading the font of the credits, to the way the show is edited and shot, seems straight out of Columbo. Very nice. I enjoyed the first episode.

We plowed through five episodes this week and it’s now, I think, in my top three shows.

Saw episode 2 this morning. That was great. I guess this will be like The Fugitive! On the road helping people and solving murders.

A friend called it a mix of 70s Incredible Hulk and Columbo and that’s the best description I’ve seen yet.

Finished season one last night. Definitely now one of my top ever shows.

Anyone know if there’s going to be a release on physical media? I want all the special features.


Fuck off, Narc.

I got to my Hodgeman sighting this morning as well.

I have to say, it’s not really doing it for me as much as I’d hoped. I’ll finish the season just because I’ll watch Lyonne in anything, but the premise isn’t really strong enough to carry a whole show - she happens to be in a place where a murder happens, she asks people about it, somebody lies, then she figures it out. It would have worked great as a one-off or movie. To be fair, I’m not a fan of procedurals in general, but I do love Columbo.

I’ve watched 4 episodes in a little over a month, and at this pace I’m really loving it. Just like Columbo, it’s all about the little pocket of circumstances and characters that Lyonne is dropped into that particular episode. A casino. A small po-dunk gas station town. A small barbeque joint. A small band touring various towns. I really like it so far, since I only watch a new episode when I’m in the mood to be dropped into a new story in a new situation. I don’t think I would enjoy this if I tried to binge it.