12 things to know about mystery-of-the-week series Poker Face

Knives Out was heaps of whodunnit fun: its recent sequel, Glass Onion, was arguably an even better time. And it seems director and writer Rian Johnson hasn’t quite got the detective tendencies out of his system, because the similiar-looking murder mystery series Poker Face is hitting our small screens real soon.

Starring our raspy-voiced Russian Doll fave Natasha Lyonne as a road-trippin’ sleuth stumbling upon cross-country homicidal puzzles, Poker Face seems like a damn delight. Scroll to get as hyped up as we are, with these facts about the show’s killer cast, old-fashioned format, and everything to expect.

1. It’s not a whodunnit…it’s a “howcatchem”

Finding out who committed a murder is so 19th century: we now need our Sherlocks to already go in knowing who the killer likely is, and working backwards to trap them with the facts.

Wikipedia defines the “inverted detective story” as a murder mystery fiction structure that reveals the killer first and then lets the sleuth figure out the why and how before delivering a satisfying resolution. Examples brought up include everything from the beloved Columbo to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with Poker Face‘s canny lead character adding more chapters to this unusual inversion of the whodunnit subgenre.

2. Natasha Lyonne already made a quick cameo the last Rian Johnson mystery

Released only a few months ago, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery wasn’t satisfied with merely packing its main cast full of starry familiar faces. Everyone from Ethan Hawke to Serena Williams made appearances, and a first-act Zoom call between Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc and his surprising mates was the best cameo-fest of all.

Yep, that’s late great Broadway legends composer Stephen Sondheim and performer Angela Lansbury (a fine telly sleuth herself!), alongside basketball MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a recognisable redhead. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in the bathub and play Among Us with this eclectic bunch?

3. The pilot episode has some striking similarities to Glass Onion

The first episode of Poker Face has the following synopsis: “a tech billionaire gathers his childhood friends to his Miami estate, what turns into a high stakes game of poker”. That’s highly reminiscent of the Knives Out sequel, which followed an Elon Musk-esque billionaire’s sick manipulative game with old buddies at his ostentatious island getaway. Adrien Brody even seems to be playing the hoity-toity rich guy character—surely he and his analogue in Glass Onion, Ed Norton, have played brothers before??

Of course we’ll also get a solid introduction to protagonist Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), who kicks off the series by escaping the casino she’s been winning big from, with Benjamin Bratt’s security expert in hot pursuit.

4. …and Lyonne’s character has a similiar freaky ability to Ana de Armas in Knives Out

Remember in Knives Out, when de Armas’ heroic maid character had the bizarre curse of vomiting whenever she lied, which proved weirdly integral to catching the film’s killer? Lyonne’s sleuth Charlie has kinda the inverse of that: a deep intuitive sense of whenever someone is telling porky-pies. “There’s nothing mystical about it”, she explains in the trailer above: “I can just tell”.

It seems that Rian Johnson had a few more narrative ideas for such a strange character quality up his sleeve even when done with de Armas, and will whip out Charlie’s near-supernatural skill when the plot requires.

5. Like Murder, She Wrote or Columbo, it has an addictive mystery-of-the-week format

It’s a thrill to return to the old-school style of more episodic TV, especially when most well-cast “prestige” shows require us to watch so closely each week and recap ourselves to death. Lyonne and Bratt are the only characters from the pilot who recut throughout the rest of the season, with Johnson promising that “the finale comes back to the story of the pilot in a way that I think is very satisfying.”

Poker Face is Johnson’s first TV show, despite directing some standout episodes of Breaking Bad (seriously, “Ozymandias” and “Fly” are probably the show’s finest moments). Here he’s relishing a disconnected, standalone episode format that kinda makes the series a set of 10 mini-movies, and we couldn’t be more keen to see the show’s versatility.

6. Lyonne and Zola director Janicza Bravo join Johnson as directors for the series

Johnson directs the first, second, and ninth episodes of Poker Face‘s first season, and writes at least two of the season’s scripts. But for the eighth episode, Lyonne takes over behind the camera, as she’s done before on her series Orange Is The New Black and Russian Doll.

The finale will be helmed by Janicza Bravo, a fierce filmmaking talent whose best work so far was the outrageous stripper comedy Zola. The shift should really emphasise each episode’s entirely new cast and setting, giving us visuals and pacing that’s delightfully unpredictable.

7. Get ready for this bananas cast list, including TV stars and Johnson’s best buddies

Okay, deep breath. As with the Knives Out franchise, Johnson and co have assembled a killer ensemble of celebrity talent: legends like Nick Nolte, Ellen Barkin, Ron Perlman, Cherry Jones, fresh faces Stephanie Hsu, Coltan Ryan, Jameela Jamil, Aussie Danielle Macdonald, comedy faves Lil Rey Howery, Tim Medows, Luis Guzmán, and John Hodgman, and some of Lyonne and Johnson’s closest collaborators. Wheewww.

Clea Duvall will reunite with Lyonne after their cult queer classic But I’m A Cheerleader, and recurring Rian Johnson mates Noah Segan and Brick leading man Joseph Gordon Levitt are obligated to show up, too. But who’s a victim and who’s a suspect? Whoever turns up dead, they’re sure to have you going, “oh hey, I know that guy.”

8. Lyonne hates lying, and says the worst lie in the world is “I’m fine”

She’s always kept it pretty real, smoking cigs on awards show red carpets and whatnot: so the real Lyonne seems to identify with her character’s hatred of fibbing. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Lyonne said “the worst couplet in the world” comes from both people asking “how are you?” disingenuously, and those replying “I’m fine”.

“Why? Because human beings are complex and going through many things at the same time. Some of which are marveling at the beauty and the poetry of the riddle, and others are just debating how we ended up in such a losing setup to begin with”, she ranted passionately. “So inherently, any living, breathing person experiencing sentience is inherently not fine.” In short, never tamp down your inner existential crisis when chatting with Nat.

9. The co-showrunners are a pair of expert sci-fi sisters, Nora and Lilla Zuckerman

With a history of writing and producing for shows such as Fringe and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nora and Lilla Zuckerman are a screenwriting sister act to be reckoned with. “The Zucks are two halves of one brain,” said Johnson to Vanity Fair, adorably shortening their surname to “the Zucks” d’awww…

He credits the pair for showing him the ropes “in terms of how to put together a room and how to work in that environment and get what I want using a group of writers, which was a whole new ball of wax for me.”

10. The show will be a cross-country US road trip, shot everywhere from New York to New Mexico

The opening episode of Poker Face kicks off the mayhem in Nevada, where Charlie’s close friend (Dascha Polanco) is murdered. She’s sent reeling off to everywhere from dusty rest stops to Texas BBQ joints and racecar circuits, with dead bodies somehow surfacing wherever she parks the Plymouth she also calls home.

The episode we’re probably most excited for will see Chloë Sevigny play a washed-up heavy metal frontwoman—but basically every diverse location and new cast will be a delight. We wonder if it’ll be possible to tell that most were simply filmed in New York state, with some trips to Nevada and New Mexico in between.

11. Nope, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Russell Crowe film of the same name

Same title, same card game setting (for the series’ first episode, at least): verrrry different results. Only shortly before the release of this anticipated series, Rusty disappointed Flicks reviewer Travis Johnson with his Australian gambling drama.

He decried that “nothing works in the film”, and that it’s “remarkably solipsistic to push out a movie about a troubled billionaire and expect ordinary punters to give a damn at a time when wealth inequality and rampant inflation are the pressing issues of the day.” Let’s hope Johnson (the director, not our critic lol) can make something a bit more relatable. Or good, at least.

12. Do we dare hope for a Knives Out/Poker Face crossover in the future?

Now with two lighthearted murder-mystery franchises under his belt, Rian Johnson has the chance to who-catchem and how-dunnit his way to extended universe greatness. He’s already pretty open to any interpretations of Craig’s character Benoit Blanc in the Knives Out films, revealing more about the guy’s colourful personal life with each entry: why couldn’t Natasha Lyonne show up to duel him in the style stakes?

Then again, maybe Poker Face and Knives Out would best be kept in their own delightful murderous bubbles. We can only handle so many quirky, hypercapable sleuths and nasty rich folks getting picked off.