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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

Rian Johnson & 'Poker Face' showrunners dig into rural radio, 'Okja' & 'MAGA dog' from 'The Stall'

Where did that awful little dog come from?

By Tara Bennett
Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in Poker Face Season 1 Episode 3

As Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) continues to traverse the byways of America behind the wheel of her Barracuda in Poker Face, Episode 3, "The Stall" has her facing the agony and the ecstasy of BBQ, AM radio and truly terrible stray dogs. Written by Wyatt Cain and directed by Iain B. MacDonald, "The Stall" connects the dots amongst such disparate topics as smoker wood, rural radio stations, an a-hole dog, and Bong Joon-ho's Okja. All of which, we couldn't love more. 

In our next SYFY WIRE Poker Face post mortem, this time for "The Stall," co-showrunners Nora Zuckerman, Lilla Zuckerman and Rian Johnson provide some insight into how they stitched all of that together for one very tasty episode.

**WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 2 of Poker Face below.**

Lil Rel Howery as Taffy in Poker Face Season 1 Episode 3

The central story of "The Stall" revolves around the small Boyle's BBQ empire that Charlie accidentally upends when she befriends Pit Master George Boyle (Larry Brown) and inspires his turn to vegan after he watches her film recommendation, Okja.

Showrunner Nora Zuckerman remembers that the vegan turn was always part of writer Wyatt Cain's original pitch for the episode. "We worked with Wyatt on another show and recruited him for Poker Face because he has this dark sense of humor and that's definitely at play in 'The Stall.' Wyatt also has a deep love of BBQ and we all sparked to the idea of setting a story in one of those BBQ restaurants with a cult following that people travel to experience and will wait in line for hours to say they ate there."

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She continues, "What I loved about the vegan conversion is it's like a religious conversion, and it made George into a great obstacle for his brother Taffy [Lil Rel Howery]. How do you change somebody once they've had such a strong change of heart? It puts Taffy in even more of a bind than he already is. "

"And the idea of his conversion being spurred by Okja just shows you how many film nerds we had in the room," Lilla Zuckeman adds about that very specific life-changing movie. "We thought there would be no way the joke would survive to production, especially if it became a rights and clearances issue. Sometimes you don't get to use clips or art from other movies and shows. But Rian is the kind of magical person who says, 'Oh, I'll just ask Bong.'  Meaning Bong Joon-ho who wrote and directed Okja and Parasite and Snowpiercer, and who Rian is friends with. There is a definite advantage when you have Rian in the writers room - and Okja survived!"  

The episode also allowed them to weave in the importance of radio stations tethering drivers to their surroundings, which brought forth another of the room's cinematic inspirations, Andrew Patterson's The Vast of Night"The radio station came as a piece from a different idea I pitched very early in the room," Nora says of its origins. "it was more of a vibe than a story idea, this radio tower somewhere in the middle of the country, a lonely place. There's a movie called The Vast of Night that has a great, creepy, lonely radio station and I think I was a little inspired by that. As often happens in the writers' room, little pieces that get discarded find their way into other stories and the small town radio station became a part of 'The Stall.'"

The radio station was also provided the perfect connector for the terrible little dog that claims shotgun in Charlie's passenger seat, and loves local shock jocks, and the denouement of the whole episode. "This was one of the first episodes we broke, and an example of how no story element in Poker Face is mere window dressing," Lilla explains. "At first the radio station was just imagined as local flavor, and a way to characterize our sidekick dog as a real asshole -- not only does he growl and bite, but he loves incendiary, bigoted radio hosts. But when we needed to crack how Charlie was going to take our villain down, you start looking at that board you think... could we use that radio station? That bombastic radio host? Wait a minute... what if? And a crazy pitch turns into the lynchpin and the story-solve for the whole episode."

Speaking of that scene-stealing dog, at the recent TCA day for Poker Face, Rian Johnson revealed that the little terror was named Ice, who was directed to greatness by series producing director, Iain B. MacDonald (Preacher). "The challenge of writing this show is...because she's not a cop, because she's on the road, we have to find a different way in each episode to emotionally draw her into solving the crime. And we had the notion that there is a murder, but it's that a dog gets killed that makes her [pursue it]. But it was so dark...And I got very, very excited."

The first four episodes of Poker Face are now streaming on Peacock. Check in weekly for our exclusive Poker Face post mortems with the creators and cast of the new series.