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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

Rian Johnson explains how Peacock mystery series ‘Poker Face’ is a ‘how catch ’em,’ not a ‘whodunnit’

Poker Face creator Rian Johnson explains the nuance of this series.

By Tara Bennett
Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in Poker Face Season 1 Episode 1

Not all mysteries are the same. Case in point: Peacock's upcoming mystery series, Poker Face. A television series created by writer/director Rian Johnson, Poker Face follows in the footsteps of Johnson's last two theatrical mysteries, Knives Out and Glass Onion. But at today's Television Critics Association winter press panel for the series, which debuts Jan. 26, Johnson clarified that Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne as amateur sleuth Charlie Cale, is forging its own mystery path — more in alignment with classic television mysteries like Columbo and The Rockford Files — which are different from his big screen films. 

RELATED: 'Poker Face' reveals murder's row of guest stars like Ron Perlman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt & more in new trailer

"As opposed to Knives Out and Glass Onion, which are 'whodunnits,' Poker Face is a 'how catch'em' by design," Johnson told reporters in the TCA ballroom (including SYFY WIRE). "In every episode, there's a killing we see and then it's Natasha versus the guest star."

Johnson confirmed nearly all the episodes in the series are standalone episodes, where "accidental detective" Charlie (Lyonne) literally rolls into a new location each week with her classic Barracuda and parses out the "how' and "why's" of a local murder. He said the idea was born out of his own childhood fascination with syndicated "case of the week" series like Columbo, The Rockford Files and Quantum Leap

Much like Columbo, which starred Peter Falk as the titular detective who had to solve a weekly mystery the audience already witnessed, so too does Poker Face give the audience the "very bad thing" in the opening minutes, and then back tracks the narrative to show how Charlie was peripherally involved with the victim. Because she's personally invested in finding the truth, she follows the clues like a bloodhound. 

Johnson said that the "how catch'em" format also helped them attract such a strong list of A-list actors to appear in Season 1 as guest stars because instead of having to service a whole ensemble of characters, such as he does in his big screen films, the Poker Face hour is just about the guest star killer. "It means this will be their episode," he said. "They get the delight of going head-to-head with Natasha's Charlie, which it makes it worth their while showing up."

And like those aforementioned procedural series, which all went on to have multiple seasons, Johnson said Poker Face was also created with an eye towards "endless possibility" in terms of on-going storytelling around Charlie and her "human lie detector" abilities. "It was not conceived as a limited series," Johnson said. "But we'll put it out there and see how people like it. I would reframe that there infinite stories to tell. It's a smörgåsbord of possibilities for every episode."

Poker Face premieres Jan. 26 on Peacock with the first four episodes streaming, then new episodes will follow weekly.

Looking for more murder mystery? Just with a bit more alien comedy thrown in? Catch up on SYFY's original series Resident Alien, which has both seasons streaming now on Peacock. A third season is coming later this year to SYFY.