Poker Face: Natasha Lyonne’s perfect detective show turns up the fun-o-meter until it explodes

Poker Face: Natasha Lyonne’s perfect detective show turns up the fun-o-meter until it explodes –

Whatever happened to fun? We used to have it, didn’t we? Mr Blobby bursting through things, stuff like that. But in recent years, it feels, fun has receded a bit, and we’ve replaced it with other things that don’t hit as hard: overearnestness or mawkishness or choreographed sentimentality. Someone really trembling while they deliver a series-closing monologue about their emotions. You couldn’t have Del Boy falling through a bar these days, could you? That’s because we’re in a fun drought, the dust of it whirling round us like old glitter.

Thank goodness then for Poker Face, the enormously successful mystery-a-week show that debuted in the US earlier this year and has finally come over to Sky Max (from Friday), and which remembers throughout what fun is. First there is the casting of Natasha Lyonne, who is always fun – her own vibrating beacon of freestanding fun, even – but is especially fun when she just plays the character of Natasha Lyonne, which is exactly what she is doing here. Then there’s that little tweak to the “unlikely detective” trope – Lyonne’s Charlie Cale has the innate ability to sense when someone’s telling a lie (her catchphrase is just “bullshit”, which is – you guessed it) – and uses it to unpuzzle strange murders and bizarre crimes on a run-from-the-mob-boss road trip across the US.

Even the decision to place each episode in a series of unlikely, salty, rust belt backwaters – at a Nascar track, or an out-of-town petrol station – is fun. It feels as if they had fun behind the scenes making them up, and it makes the whole thing feel more lively and interesting throughout. It’s also nice to be reminded places other than “Manhattan” or “LA” exist, as almost every TV show produced in America tends to forget.

Each hour-long episode gives 12 to 17 minutes of Lyonne-less backstory over to the guest stars that week – from Chloë Sevigny to Adrien Brody to Tim Blake Nelson to Jameela Jamil, all of whom are having enormous amounts of the f-word – and every episode wrings every last drop out of its runtime, each one feeling rich and textured. There’s some ongoing storyline where Charlie’s history will catch up with her, probably. There’s a couple of running in-jokes and some premonition stuff that I think will come to a resolution towards the end. But, for now, here Natasha Lyonne is, mopping out a urinal and 25 minutes away from solving a crime. And it is so, so fun.

Poker Face is a Rian Johnson creation, and I’m glad he’s back on form – Brick and Looper were so good, then The Last Jedi was really long and then for better or worse Knives Out happened and Glass Onion after that – because Poker Face feels like all the good bits from his previous works (knotty puzzles solved in unlikely ways and along unlikely timelines by unlikely investigators; dialogue that’s actually smart, not look-to-the-camera-and-check-you-noticed-how-smart-it-was smart; a constant but never-looming threat) and none of the bad bits (Luke Skywalker taking about 15 hours to die; a big onion made of glass).

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