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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

'Poker Face' showrunners on channeling their inner 'Smokey & the Bandit' in 'The Future of the Sport'

Car classics like Smokey and the Bandit and Six Pack inspired this week's Poker Face

By Tara Bennett
Pictured: (l-r) Jack Alcott as Randy, Charles Melton as Davis, Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 7

In this week's fresh episode of Poker Face, Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) gets herself embroiled in the messy generational beef between amateur stock car racers. Veteran racer Kyle Owens (Tim Blake Nelson) is feeling his retirement looming but he can't graciously make space for either his daughter, Katy (Jasmine Aiyana Garvin), or the young, legacy upstart, Davis Mcdowell (Charles Melton).

As per usual, "The Future of the Sport" takes our expectations and inverts them for a wild chase that almost gets Charlie run off the road...permanently. 

RELATED: No lie! Peacock renews 'Poker Face' for second season

In our exclusive weekly SYFY WIRE post mortem, showrunners Lilla and Nora Zuckerman joined us share the inside track about how "The Future of the Sport" evolved into a a tight tale about ego, murder, and toxic hubris.

**WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 7 of Poker Face below.**

Nora tells us that it was in the Poker Face writers room that the idea of putting Charlie, specifically, into the world of late model racing that the episode found its lane. "I, frankly, wasn't familiar with it but other people in the room were," Nora admits. "But to me, it felt much more Poker Face. Like Charlie's not going to NASCAR with the big sponsors and the beer tents. And we had a lot of fun learning about that world."

However, the idea needed a real world home. Nora says more so than any other episode this season, this script coming to life was contingent on a finding an actual raceway that could accommodate, and welcome, their production needs. "With this one, we were most like, 'Can we pull this off? Are we gonna be able to do the car racing stuff?'" Nora remembers. "We knew that there were tracks up in the Hudson River Valley where we were shooting, but we didn't know if we'd have the cooperation. Will people let us use their cars? It actually turned out to be wonderful.

"The whole community up there totally embraced us," Nora continues. "People literally showed up with trailers of their cars. They are extras in the scenes. It was really like a total community that came together to help make this episode. We had a great time." 

In fact, even before production the Zuckermans, their writers and director Iain B. MacDonald made a pilgrimage out to their location at Orange County Speedway in Orange County in New York to soak up the atmosphere in person. "It was deafeningly loud," Lilla says. "We left covered with grit. There was dirt and sand in your ears. It was just so vibrant. I think going to see those races happen in real life really was what inspired Ian to tackle it the way he did."

MacDonald opens the episode with an impressive race between Kyle and Davis that Lilla says was heavily inspired by '70s and '80s car culture cinema. "We did look less towards more contemporary films, like Fast and Furious, and really towards more classic films like Smokey and the Bandit or Six Pack. We really wanted to capture the dirt, the grit, the smell of the fuel in the air and the sound."

Nora continues, "Ian did a wonderful job with the DP for the episode who was Christine Ng, who did the second episode and the retirement home episode. Christine just has a wonderful eye and the two of them worked so well together. We even used drones in this one. I remember being in a van with Ian and Christine as we were shooting some of the car stuff with the drones, and Ian was just giddy about it."

"The Future of the Sport" also changes the structure of what we've seen so far in the series, by not having anyone die, or go to jail for their sins. "That's something that that we discussed a lot," Nora says of their choices. "In some of these episodes, Charlie does turn to law enforcement. But in this episode, we're sort of subverting this a little bit. In this episode, we break a lot of rules. First of all, nobody dies. But yet, we felt the crime is actually one of the most dastardly, cruel crimes of the season."

But Charlie serves up her own justice when she surprises Davis with a little goodbye moment. She not only informs him that Katy knows what he did, but that she's on to his terrible deeds, calling him a "monster," which spurs in him a karmic case of the shakes before his race. "We're always looking for the poetic justice in all of these cases. A lot of times, I think poetic justice is a lot more emotionally satisfying than seeing somebody getting perp walked to the squad car," Lilla shares of their ending. "We loved the idea of the book ends of the shaky hands because it's just like this harbinger of doom. At that point, you're screwed if you've lost your flow. We felt like it was just the emotionally satisfying conclusion to that story. You don't need to see him getting his ass whooped by Katy because you know it's coming. And that's the satisfaction of that moment."

Seven episodes of Poker Face are now streaming on Peacock. Check in weekly at SYFY WIRE for our exclusive Poker Face post mortems with the creators and cast of the new series.