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SYFY WIRE Poker Face

'Poker Face' showrunners on how 'They Live' inspired retirement home battle royale in 'Time of the Monkey'

A brawl to end all brawls finds Charlie Cale in mortal danger.

By Tara Bennett
Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 5

Oh, ho, how the tables get turned on Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) in Poker Face, Episode 5, "Time of the Monkey". After literally running in the opposite direction from Cliff Legrand (Benjamin Bratt) at the end of "Rest in Metal," Cale finds herself in a sunnier climate working at the Mossy Oaks Retirement Home. It's there that she bonds with two salty besties, Irene Smothers (Judith Light) and Joyce Harris (S. Epatha Merkerson), who Cale discovers have quite the lurid history that dates back to counterculture movements of the '60s.

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Changing up the formula for the series, the two ladies manage to gain Cale's trust and skirt the truth enough that she doesn't see their nefarious ways until it's almost too late. In our latest exclusive Poker Face post mortem, co-showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman reveal how they chose the weekly locales for Cale to visit, and how actresses Light and Merkerson ended up sorta mirroring their fictional characters during the episode shoot.

(l-r) S. Epatha Merkerson as Joyce Harris, Judith Light as Irene Smothers in POKER FACE Season 1 Episode 5

**WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 5 of Poker Face below.**

It's a great big country for Cale to traverse in her vintage Barracuda, which begs the question how did executive producers Rian Johnson and the Zuckermans narrow down the locales and scenarios that our "human lie detector" would experience every week? "Yeah, there's no shortage of worlds that Charlie could find herself in," Nora tells SYFY WIRE. 

In the case of Mossy Oaks this week, Nora says that the retirement community set up was something they knew very early on that they wanted to do. "But we weren't quite sure how to do it," she admits. Lilla continues that the story made itself clear when they figured out the story of two older rebellious women that would woo Charlie with their stories, while being unreliable narrators. "We're so thrilled with where we take [Charlie] while also subverting your expectations of what would happen at a retirement home, or what would happen at a dinner theater, let's say. And that was really thrilling because there's so many other episode [ideas] that just got left behind that I would love to pick up and run with in future seasons."

With "Time of the Monkey," the two are particularly happy and confident that most people watching will have a least one "Holy sh*t" moment with regards to the character turns and their choices. In particular, that all-out brawl amongst Charlie, Irene and Joyce that almost wipes our heroine out for good. 

Nora reveals they know early on that a brutal fight would be key to the resolution of the episode. "We were like, 'Nobody's gonna expect the biggest fight choreography of Poker Face to be in the retirement home episode,'" Nora laughs. "Rian will tell you that we looked at the fight in They Live as a reference, and we had so much fun."

She adds that Light and Merkerson, both long-time television acting veterans and individual Emmy-award winners, worked together for the first time in this episode. "Those two women together on screen are a joy, but off-screen, they just hit it off immediately. You can see it on screen," she shares. "They were spending weekends together.

"And I think they almost got kicked out of this very avant garde art museum up in the Hudson River Valley, because they were like causing trouble. So, they are Joyce and Irene," Nora laughs.

The first five 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.