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.”