Poker Face: Season 1– TV Review

TL;DR – This was a delightful romp across America where we solved a murder each week in almost the same way, and I was captivated for the whole run.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Disclosure – I paid for the Stan service that viewed this series.

Charlie sees something off.

Poker Face Review

At times, the modern TV landscape is perpetually stuck in a state of cognitive dissonance. People tend to use the word ‘old-fashioned’ in a pejorative sense as if it has nothing of value to give us. We do this while living in perpetual nostalgia cycles that are morphing into nostalgia spirals. But if there is ever an artist that lives in the overlap between those two extremes, it is Rian Johnson, and I was fascinated to see where this show would go every week.   

So to set the scene, we open in a casino as the maids try to get the rooms ready for the next occupants, or at least clean for the day, when a maid sees something horrifying on a laptop. Something that needs to be reported. So Natalie (Dascha Polanco) tells her boss (Benjamin Bratt), who tells the head of the casino, Frost (Adrien Brody). But instead of protecting her, they did the unthinkable. The only problem is that working in the Casino, Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) has the impeccable talent of always knowing when someone is lying. Now we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead.

Charlie catches someone in their bullshit.
Poker Face is a vibe. Image Credit: Stan.

Poker Face is many things, and mainly it is a vibe. This series luxuriates in a setting and style that works its way into the stories, the tone, and each frame. While the vibe was different, you could see hints of that in Knives Out, but it is amplified here thanks to some quality choices. I am sure that much of it comes down to particular lens choices or the cameras used to help get that visual style. Unfortunately, that is not my area of expertise. But whatever the case, these ten episodes found themselves in wildly different locations and tones, yet felt part of a united whole.

Part of this vibe also comes from the central star [as well as writer and director of The Orpheus Syndrome], Natasha Lyonne. She is the main link that ties it all together, and it would not work without this particular off-kilter performance that is both endearing but also creates distance between her and the rest of the characters in the show. All this stems from the show’s central conceit that Charlie always knows when someone is lying. And, in fact, there is almost a compulsion to call out intentional ‘bullshit’ whenever she hears it.

Cherry Jones.
The cast in this show is stacked. Image Credit: Stan.

This dynamic works into the structure of every episode that mostly follows the same pattern from a structural perspective. We are introduced to some characters, we get to know their lives, and then one of them is murdered by the other/s. We then jump back in time to see that Charlie has been there the whole time and is now trying to work out what happened with the murder. Having the same structure for nearly every episode should make this series feel stale once you work out the system, but it doesn’t. Because you are in on the murder, you know all the little hints and tricks, and as such, you are watching every conversation to the moment where ‘bullshit’ is spoken.

The next part of what makes this show more than a little special is the sheer variety of locations and scenarios it visits throughout this first season. We get one scenario where there is a murder of the BBQ pit boss because he decided to become a vegetarian after watching Okja. Oh, and there is a racist dog for no other reason than I think they needed you to be a bit okay with it being shoot. To two apparently feuding actors that team up to kill the other’s spouse because they are secretly in love. Also, a one-hit wonder band that will kill for another chance for glory. And this is just scratching the surface of what was a wild first season. If nothing else, this show should win awards with its casting because every episode was stacked.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks menacingly.
Each week is another wonderful scenario to ponder. Image Credit: Stan.

While we have a monster or case-of-the-week that is the main thrust of each episode, there is also the vaguest of an overarching storyline that links the season together, well, the storyline and Benjamin Bratt. For the most part, this is just an omnipresent drive for Charlie to keep off the grid and take up jobs that pay cash, which positions her near murderers. However, this vague menace becomes very personal in some episodes as the threat of capture is inches away. Benjamin Bratt becomes a great foil in the season if for no other reason than he enjoys Burn Notice.

In the end, do we recommend Poker Face? Absolutely. Each week I could not wait to see which wacky situation Charlie would find herself in, and no week disappointed. I am so glad that we are getting a second season, even if it is a similar setup to this season. If nothing else, I can’t wait to see the weird and wonderful scenarios they come up with next time.

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you seen Poker Face yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review
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Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Poker Face
Directed by
– Rian Johnson, Iain B. MacDonald, Tiffany Johnson, Lucky McKee, Ben Sinclair, Natasha Lyonne & Janicza Bravo.
Written by – Rian Johnson, Alice Ju, Wyatt Cain, Christine Boylan, Wyatt Cain, Charlie Peppers, Chris Downey, Joe Lawson, CS Fischer, Natasha Lyonne, Nora Zuckerman & Lilla Zuckerman   
Created by – Rian Johnson
Production/Distribution Companies – Animal Pictures, MRC Television, T-Street, Peacock & Stan
Starring – Natasha Lyonne with Adrien Brody, Dascha Polanco, Benjamin Bratt, Noah Segan, Hong Chau, Megan Suri, Colton Ryan, John Ratzenberger, Brandon Michael Hall, Lil Rel Howery, Danielle MacDonald, Chloë Sevigny, Nicholas Cirillo, Chuck Cooper, John Darnielle, Judith Light, S. Epatha Merkerson, K Callan, Reed Birney, Simon Helberg, Tim Meadows, Ellen Barkin, Audrey Corsa, Jameela Jamil, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Melton, Nick Nolte, Cherry Jones, Luis Guzmán, Rowan Blanchard, Tim Russ, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Castañeda, Stephanie Hsu, Ron Perlman, Clea Duvall & Rhea Perlman and Chelsea Frei, Jaswant Shrestha, Shane Paul McGhie, Larry Brown, G.K. Umeh, John Hodgman, Emily Yoshida, Darius Fraser, Steven Randazzo, Trina Lafargue, Jana Bernard, Harry Thornton, Chris Northrop, Teren Carter, Sprague Theobald, James Cribbins, Niall Cunningham, Chris McKinney, Adam Enright, John Edward Miller, Leslie Silva, Angel Desai, Jasmine Aiyana Garvin, Jack Alcott, Jakob Von Eichel, Will T, Travis, Maura Day, Pedro Hollywood, Hallie Ruth Jacobs, Chris Cortez, James Yaegashi, Dan Chariton, Willa Dunn, Donna Winfield & Dwelvan David. 
Episodes CoveredDead Man’s Hand, The Night Shift, The Stall, Rest in Metal, Time of the Monkey, Exit Stage Death, The Future of the Sport, The Orpheus Syndrome, Escape from Shit Mountain & The Hook.


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