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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

Critics say Rian Johnson's Peacock series ‘Poker Face’ is one of most clever, brilliant shows of 2023

Benoit Blanc is so last week - say hello to Charlie Cale.

By Josh Weiss
Pictured: Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 4

No lie! Rian Johnson’s first original television series — Poker Face — is just the latest reason why you need to sign up for a Peacock account this very instant. With the first four episodes dropping tomorrow, critics are now allowed to speak freely on the show, which stars Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll) as drifter and human lie detector, Charlie Cale.

The glowing reviews agree that Ms. Cale’s habit of unintentionally stepping into homicide investigations everywhere she goes recalls the weekly whodunit programs of the 1970s, particularly Columbo, whose episodes began by giving away the specifics of the murder itself before Peter Falk entered the picture to wear down the guilty parties via a combination of a bumbling facade and an annoying level of persistence (“Just one more thing!”).

RELATED: ‘Poker Face’ star Natasha Lyonne will take your calls on Peacock’s 'B.S. Hotline' phone service

In a true throwback to the halcyon days of weekly whodunits (and its inverted cousin, the howdunits), Poker Face employs a roster of different guest stars for each standalone story:

Stephanie Hsu, Adrien Brody, Nick Nolte, Chloë Sevigny, Ellen Barkin, Tim Meadows, Jameela Jamil, Lil Rel Howery, Noah Segan, Ron Perlman, Angel Desai, Audrey Corsa, Benjamin Bratt, Brandon Michael Hall, Charles Melton, Chelsea Frei, Cherry Jones, Clea DuVall, Colton Ryan, Danielle MacDonald, Dascha Polanco, Hong Chau, Jasmine Aiyana Garvin, Judith Light, Leslie Silva, Luis Guzmán, Megan Suri, Niall Cunningham, Nicholas Cirillo, Reed Birney, Rhea Perlman, Rowan Blanchard, S. Epatha Merkerson, Shane Paul McGhie, Simon Helberg, and Tim Blake Nelson. 

Head below to see what critics are saying…

“Surely one of the strongest series yet to launch on Peacock, this streaming drama feels like the best sort of vintage, comfortably spread-out TV. This elegant set of mystery stories allows an established star the time and space to crack a new sort of case, that of how to evolve a familiar persona and bring fans along for the ride.” -Daniel D’Addario, Variety

Generally, the series has a confident throwback style, with solid location shooting and the occasional ’70s flourish — an unexpected zoom or whatnot — as a reminder of the project’s origins. Maybe I didn’t love Poker Face quite as much as I wanted to, but it’s doing its odd thing with great enthusiasm and I can easily see how it could get more and more comfortable with its derivative-but-distinctive voice.” -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

“Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne have brilliantly recreated Columbo’s howcatchem formula in the first four episodes of Poker Face. The mystery-of-the-week show is packed with quirky characters, humor with a bit of bite, and excellent performances from Lyonne and the murderers she must puzzle out how to bring to justice.” -Samantha Nelson, IGN

“Caught somewhere between Columbo and Quantum Leap, the brilliance of Poker Face is how seamlessly it falls into the steady rhythm of a network crime-of-the-week procedural … Because Lyonne and every single one of Poker Face’s featured players are clearly having so much fun playing these outsize roles to the back of the room, it’s hard not to get swept up in the madness of the show.” -Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

“With its dip-in-and-out weekly format, Poker Face is something of a throwback in more ways than one. Anchored by Lyonne at her most watchable and filled with just enough twists to keep things interesting, Poker Face makes murder into highly snackable comfort viewing.” -Richard Trenholm, CNET

"Charlie's gift layers tension under every conversation. You feel how much she enjoys truth, and how disappointed lies make her … For all Poker Face's pop history, you could define it by absences. Here's a detective with no home, no gun, no phone, no supporting cast, a past to escape, and a doomed future. Hell of a hand, I'm all in.” -Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

“From the start, it's no secret that the new series Poker Face is a throwback to an earlier era of television — to Columbo, especially. The opening titles even recall the yellow Columbo font. And while it might not be instantly obvious that Natasha Lyonne is the Peter Falk of her generation, by the end of a couple of episodes, you will believe.” -Linda Holmes, NPR

“Columbo is its main touchstone, and like its inspiration, Poker Face is sly, easy, escapist fun. But as he did in the character-driven whodunnit films Knives Out and Glass Onion, Johnson has designed this show with a shrewd sense of how to give nostalgia an update. His throwback to murder-of-the-week shows works perfectly well today, although the shambolic hero played by Peter Falk is now a croaky-voiced heroine with wild hair and a mobile phone.” -Caryn James, BBC

“With that stellar central performance, hugely famous and talented actors surrounding it, and Johnson’s multitude of mysteries all driving each episode, you can’t help but fall in love with Poker Face. It’s a show that, much like the detective shows of the 1970s and ‘80s that inspired it, you could pop on and watch all day, never, ever be bored, and always have a huge smile on your face.” -Germain Lussier, Gizmodo

Like the Blanc movies, this is a show that uses every part of the buffalo. No matter how disposable a scene seems — say, Charlie having an amusing encounter with a stranger at a garbage can — it will eventually turn out to have some kind of significance to the plot. The whole thing is damned clever — including the many ways it manages to demonstrate the limits of being a human lie detector — and light on its feet.” -Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

You would think that Charlie’s superpower would make the solution to the cases less than suspenseful. You would be correct. Johnson (who also writes and directs multiple episodes) shows you up front who did it and how, as “Columbo” did. The real mystery is whether and how Charlie can assemble enough proof to make the case stick. Along the way, the series makes some sly points about who, in our society, cases do and don’t stick to.” -James Poniewozik, The New York Times

The first four episodes of Poker Face hit Peacock on Thursday, Jan. 26 — with the remaining six scheduled to drop on a weekly basis after that. As of this writing, the show holds a perfect score of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.