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'Poker Face' showrunners on writing 'Sucker Punch,' crafting a rock 'n roll murder in 'Rest in Metal'
A musician cameo and a deep dive into sitcom theme songs end up cracking the case.
As the ear worm of Poker Face episodes, "Rest in Metal" finds Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) detouring her random road trip to become the merch girl for the one-hit wonder metal band, Doxxxology. Fronted by Ruby Ruin (Chloe Sevigny), the now past-her-punk-prime singer scrapes together one more tour hoping it will inspire the band to write another hit like their one-hit-wonder "Staple Head." Viewer, it does not.
But it does find Charlie bonding with another of humanity's eccentric creations, Gavin (Nick Cirillo), the new drummer for Doxxxology. Pretty much loathed by the band for his over-enthusiasm, the Craigslist find further proves that along with Charlie's keen "bullish*t detector," she also manages to find the best in her fellow misfits. In our latest exclusive SYFY WIRE Poker Face post mortem, co-showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman give us details on Charlie's propensity to bond with strays, the Benson connection and that ongoing superglue gag.
**WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 4 of Poker Face below.**
Charlie's fondness for hyper-spazz Gavin in "Rest in Metal" firmly cements that despite her knowledge that everyone is lying, she's still anything but a cynic when it comes to still liking people. It's a trait as defining of Cale's as he bullsh*t* detecting abilities. Co-showrunner Lilla Zuckerman tells SYFY WIRE that leaning into that empathy was also their way into why she would be such a magnet for murder cases.
"In the pilot, Charlie is emotionally pulled into the murder mystery because it's deeply personal. But one of the early challenges the writers faced was -- how is she going to get entangled in these crimes every week?" Lilla explains. "And that's why it's critical that Charlie is a person who truly connects with people. She's got this gravitational pull. She sees people with clear eyes and an open heart. And that's why when something goes sideways, she can't let it go. Or, as Natasha once put it, 'She's a dog person! But for people!'"
In the case of Gavin, co-showrunner Nora Zuckerman says they amped up his "exhausting 'puppy dog please like me!' quality," in relation to the band so that audiences would get to see how Charlie looked at him with far kinder eyes. "At first that's what Charlie sees in him as well, but she gets to know the deeper side of him. She learns that he's a real talent and has a bit of a wounded soul," she explains. "To us, that's very Charlie. She ends up picking up strays (in "The Stall" it is a literal stray dog) and finding what's special about them. Nick Cirillo had the perfect quality for the part and happened to be an amazing drummer as well."
This episode also illustrates the "skills picked up and put into action" pattern that Charlie folds into her every day, such as her penchant for superglue medical aid learned from Marge (Hong Chau) in "The Night Shift". Nora Zuckerman takes responsibility for that recurring life hack which she learned when she had a finger cut that didn't need stitches. "I had read about the superglue trick and it worked like a charm, no scar, nothing; not that anybody should take medical advice from Poker Face or me," she jokes. "Afterward I asked a cousin of mine, who is a doctor, and they confirmed that the stuff they use at the ER is basically the same, only a little more flexible and obviously applied by professionals." The superglue had the added benefit of factoring into Gavin getting blood on his amp, which factored into his ultimate fate.
Speaking of the band, factoring original music into an episode is a skill that not every writers' room is equipped to fill. But Lilla says the writers embraced that the "hit" song, "Staple Head," and Gavin's "Sucker Punch" composition would be central to the episode. "I pitched the idea that Charlie isn't going to solve the murder first," Lilla reveals. "And she doesn't even know it's a murder yet, but she's going to stumble upon the mystery of the *song* and then that will make her suspect foul play. From that pitch came the idea that Gavin was a "magpie," a dude that collected little scraps and bips and bobs, including a brochure for those caves...Which was personal because when we were growing up, Nora and I were always on family road trips through the Dakotas, and all we wanted to do was stop and go to Wonderland Caves."
Nora continues that it was Rian Johnson who came up with the theme song for the '80s sitcom, Benson, as the key to the plagiarism revelation by the amateur online sleuths. "We pitched the song / magpie concept to Rian, and he was like, 'Yes! And the tune of the song is the theme song of Benson! Because he's always watching Benson!' The room was silent," Nora deadpans. "No one had ever mentioned Benson. It came out of nowhere.
"We all burst into laughter and we knew we had to make it work," Nora continues. "When we got into production, securing the rights to the Benson song was tricky. We kept asking Rian, "What about Silver Spoons or Small Wonder? But he stuck to his guns. Benson or bust."
An extra fun fact is that John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, who makes his acting debut as band member Al, took the lyrics from the script and the tune of Benson to create Gavin's "Sucker Punch" song. "The man is a genius," Nora applauds.
The first four 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.