Not quite a blank poker face

Not quite a blank poker face May 12, 2023

Image: Peacock

Charlie Cale is on the run from Ron Perlman for the death of Adrien Brody. Along the way, she has to solve crimes involving everyone from Nick Nolte to Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Chloe Sevigny using her super power of always knowing when someone is lying. And if that sounds like a modern update of Colombo with Trump-era wish-fulfillment thrown in, well, that’s kind of what Rian Johnson’s Poker Face is doing.

As a show, Poker Face is a solid watch and worth your time. And frankly, I think it’s probably only going to get better. The first season was somewhat uneven and struggled to find the right tone. Sometimes it wanted to be quirky and fun (think the monster-of-the-week shows from Supernatural or X-Files). Other times it wanted to be meaningful mystery (again, think Colombo). Obviously a show can be more than one thing, but to shift around like that requires a lot of skill and so far the transitions are a bit disorienting.

Like Colombo, we’re shown the murder first and then shown how the star solves the mystery. Unlike Colombo, Poker Face gives us Charlie’s perspective after we see the murder, which means we’re usually seeing the same action again from a different perspective. Sometime we’re given it a third time. So functionally we’re watching 10-20 minutes worth of action two or three times in a sixty minute episode. Again, this can be done well, but Poker Face needs some more experience to get this to where they’re using their time efficiently.

None of these are problems with the actors–they’re all at the top of their game and more than make up for the shaky writing.

I said above this is a modern update of Colombo with Trump era wish-fulfillment thrown in. How many times in the past seven years have we wished we could know, instantly and without doubt or hesitation, whether or not someone was telling the truth? Without having to fact-check, without having to ask clarifying questions, without, well, without anything, don’t we want to just know? I don’t even need to pick a political issue, we all have them and we all suspect someone is lying but don’t have the tools to use to confirm it. Enter Charlie Cale, who just knows.

To its credit, the show steers clear of political issues and keeps the stakes “small” (not small for Charlie, obviously, but not dealing with the future of the civilized world or anything like that). And as far as it goes, there’s an important lesson here. We have to live in a world where the truth is something we have to fight for. Yes, the Truth has been revealed in God’s Word and can be trusted. But aside from what we need to know for salvation truth is something we have to work for. We’re born into a world that was made good and has fallen, so we have to fight every day to know who is lying and who is telling the truth. We have to know how reality works and when the words and actions of others are at odds with or aligned with that reality. So it’s nice to be able to watch someone not have to deal with that–though obviously the parallel message is that knowing the truth doesn’t automatically make life all sunshine and puppies either, given what Charlie Cale has to deal with.

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about Poker Face and we should look forward to the next season!

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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