Peacock's new crime-mystery series Poker Face stars Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) as Charlie Cale, a gambler on the run who continues to wind up in murderous predicaments that somehow only she can solve. The clever show — which was created by Glass Onion writer-director Rian Johnson — very much feels like an homage to classics such as Columbo or Murder, She Wrote, but with Lyonne in place as a much more reluctant hero. The retro vibes in Poker Face are completely intentional, as showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman recently told PopCulture.com that the series is very much meant to be their "love letter to old school, throwback, murder of the Week television."
"It is this kind of love that you feel watching those shows when you grew up with them," Nora went on to say during our chat with the sisters in support of the Poker Face premiere. "We hope that you're going to feel again with Poker Face." She added, "The structure is similar because I would call Colombo a 'how catch'em' as well. And I think that it's going to be a format. We're bringing it back, man, because it's such a joy to watch. And obviously, Natasha is a big fan of [Colombo star] Peter Falk and his work, too. So I think there's a little bit of osmosis happening there, but really, it's its own show. It has its own flavor to it as well. And that's the sort of Rian, Natasha magic."
The Zuckermans are in no way new to the world of TV, having worked behind the scenes on a number of shows such as Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the very prematurely canceled FOX thriller Prodigal Son. When it comes to the differences between crafting the story in Poker Face as opposed to their past shows, Lilla explained, "Well, what was really the fun challenge of this show was hooking an audience into a murder mystery when they've watched the murder in the first act, right? So if who has committed this dastardly crime, how do you keep people interested? How do you keep people engaged? And as storytellers, that was the fun."
"That's really what Natasha brought to the table too," she continued, "because Charlie Cale is such a compelling character, just seeing her think, just seeing her figure it out. And what we wanted to do was to have her solve these crimes in a way that you never saw coming. And so you're gasping, not just because you figured out who did it. That's fine. That's done. You're gasping because you can't believe how her mind is working and how she's approaching it and how she gets to the bottom of it and that was really fun challenge as writers.
Pointing out another crucial difference between Poker Face and many of the shows it pays tribute to, Nora said, "I think one of the challenges that we knew even coming into this is she's not a cop. She can't just slap the cuffs on somebody like, for example, Colombo... At the end, you would see a villain go like, 'Oh s—, you got me.' And then see the cops in the doorway and go. We can't quite do that with Natasha."
"Also, she doesn't have access to a crime lab," Nora added. "It makes her job a little harder, which is more fun to watch, I always believe. And then also, how is she going to really get justice and you can't always run to the cops. And justice doesn't always look exactly how you think it's going to look on this show. So that was a real challenge and it almost made Poker Face more like a con show where at the end, you really need to find a way to get comeuppance outside of the law and that was a really fun challenge for us." The first four episodes of Poker Face debut Jan. 26 on Peacock. New episodes will then air on Thursdays, beginning Feb. 2.