The obvious touchstone here is Peter Falk’s “Columbo,” but Natasha Lyonne brings her own quirkily deft touch to the tried-and-true formula with “Poker Face.” When it came to writing the show, Rian Johnson had a straightforward approach: don’t imitate or revise; just do the thing. In an interview with Alison Herman at The Ringer, he explained how he indulged his ardor for TV mysteries while making them his own:
“In a weird way, putting faith in — I was about to say tropes, but I guess that’s kind of the right word — the things about that procedural format that work. That, in a way, is similar to ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Glass Onion,’ the mystery movies that I’ve done. That’s one thing I learned in terms of approaching genres, is to not feel that it has to be a reinvention. If you love something, there’s a reason you love it. The object is not to reinvent; it’s just to do it really well. And if you do it really well in your voice, it will feel new. It will feel fresh.”
It does work. Emphatically so. Lyonne’s been acting for almost 30 years, and it’s been a thrill to watch her really hit her creative stride with “Orange Is the New Black,” “Russian Doll,” and now “Poker Face.” Her latest series works because, like Johnson, she isn’t mimicking beloved sleuths like Columbo, Kojak, and Jessica Fletcher. She’s creating Charlie Cale, and we’re falling in love with the character because we love Lyonne.
Let this be a lesson to the clods who’ve slickly, soullessly revamped classic TV shows like “Hawaii Five-O” and “Magnum P.I.” We loved those series because they were different. If you want to win us over, don’t New Coke these shows. Do something different.