Natasha Lyonne Is the Woman We All Need Right Now (aka, Why You Have to Watch ‘Poker Face’ Immediately)

True confession: When I was just starting out in New York City, I used to call in sick from work and watch old episodes of 1970s detective show Columbo, fantasizing that I’d write a reboot of the show that would bring its genius to modern day audiences. Fast forward to today when someone has done just that, except in a reworked version with a woman as the lead detective who bumbles her way into solving cases using her quirky super power: the ability to tell at a glance if people are lying.

The show is called Poker Face and it stars Natasha Lyonne—and you need to watch it right now to lift yourself right out of the winter doldrums and into a kind of rumpled bliss.

No matter that the show is on Peacock, which honestly just reminds me that I can’t keep track of all these streaming services (sign up here). Even if you have to go over to a friend’s house and watch it on their iPad, just do it. Because Lyonne’s performance as Charlie Cale, a woman who, in addition to being our lead detective, happens to be on the run after a Vegas mob boss blames her for a family death, makes for true must-see TV.

The show is a testament to creator Rian Johnson’s storytelling. Did you like Knives Out and Glass Onion? This series features the same syncopated jazz melody of an unusual lead character set against a scrambled bass line of unusual settings and malevolent goings-on. There’s a shuffled timeline in each episode—we see the crime happen at the beginning, then flash back to see how our hero Charlie figures into the drama. (Johnson even leaves us an Easter egg referencing the contemporary master of mixed-up narratives, Quentin Tarantino, when in episode one we see that director’s 1994 master work Pulp Fiction playing on Charlie’s TV.)

Charlie is your basic iconic loner who rolls through town, just trying to get by maybe making a couple friends. About 20 minutes into every hour-long episode, Charlie will need to help/avenge one of these new friends when they get killed or erroneously blamed for a murder (you know, the usual). She’s our 2023 version of the samurai or gunslinger icon, a person who isn’t driven by greed or prestige or “likes” on an Instagram post, but instead by a quaint concept that used to be called honor.

In the first episode, a bad guy asks her to use her human lie detector ability in a scam. He promises she’ll be rich. “I’ve been rich, and it’s better than being broke. Not as good as just getting by, though,” she tells him. Sure, Charlie lets herself be talked into joining the scam, but all the while she’s working on sleuthing a greater project: finding her pal’s murderer.

But let’s take a moment to really lean into why this show is a can’t miss, this idea of Charlie-as-hero. She lives in her car. She wears weird outfits that look as though she pieced them together from the back of said car (a beat-up 1969 Plymouth Barracuda). She doesn’t have any special degrees, fancy friends or even a job (she’s on the run, remember). So who wants to watch the weekly adventures of a “vagrant” (as one character sums her up)? Well, we all do. She’s Jack Reacher showing up in a new town without a change of clothes. She’s so many of us, really, living a couple of paychecks ahead of losing our jobs, or our health, or our marriage or whatever we think is security. All Charlie has are her wits and what used to be called “pluck.”

Poker Face Natasha Lyonne
karolina wojtasik/peacock

Here's what else Charlie has, because if I continue to write in whole paragraphs, well, really it’s just going to take up valuable time that should be spent watching her in action:

• She has powers of observation, perhaps thanks to the fact that she had to smash her phone to avoid being tracked by her pursuers. (No, doesn’t have her eyes glued to her phone and look what happens, she’s solving moy-doors!)

• She has a way with strangers and gives even annoying people a chance to speak their piece.

• She has an uncontrollable mop that may or may not be her actual hair, but that seems to be acting in its own show, getting bigger or frizzier from shot to shot, a constant bad hair day that by sheer force of will becomes covetable.

• She has an enviably blunt manner, so blunt that when she hears people telling a lie, she utters “bullshit”—often loud enough for them to hear.

Which finally brings me back to the genius that is Natasha Lyonne. I’m not sure where Charlie ends and Natasha begins, since the mannerisms and lone-wolf appeal of the character seem to have been culled directly from Lyonne’s life. A recent profile in Nylon detailed how she likes to be alone, and she’s open about her cockeyed optimism born out of a troubled past, which she shared in her touching opening monologue on SNL in May. Let’s not forget, this is the woman who starred to great acclaim in the recent Russian Doll, a speculative fiction show about coming back from death and danger time and time again, and not only surviving, but having a damn good time. It’s maybe what so many of us are longing for now, a woman who is going to show us that hey, it’s not so bad, and that even when the chips are down, we can just pay attention and call “bullshit” and things will turn out okay. It’s definitely working for me, so okay, you got me Peacock. I’ll be tuning in every week to see how Charlie takes down the man—or at the very least keeps her tank full of gas for another week.

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...