Ever since Russian Doll catapulted her back into mainstream consciousness, there has been a consistent drum beat for Natasha Lyonne to play a contemporary take on Columbo, the legendary TV detective popularized by Peter Falk. Well, Rian Johnson heard the internet’s wishes, and delivers unto us Poker Face, a “howcatchem” case-of-the-week mystery show starring Lyonne as Charlie Cale, a woman with striking intuition who solves crimes wherever she goes.
Poker Face is not pretending to be anything other than an update of the Columbo format, but the trailer does introduce a larger plot connecting the case-of-the-week episodes. Charlie can tell when people are lying, and somehow this gets her in trouble with a crooked looking dude played by Adrien Brody. So, she’s on the run and solving new crimes every week. Love it, into it, wish it was on any streaming service other than Peacock, because no one watches Peacock which means Poker Face, regardless of quality, is doomed to get lost in the streaming shuffle for sure.
But it does look really good. In the vein of the Benoit Blanc mysteries, Poker Face features a star-studded ensemble cast—probably super easy to book some of these people when they only have to come in for a few days, not the months it takes to make a movie—which is then anchored by Lyonne, playing another colorful detective. I would watch Natasha Lyonne read a takeout menu, let alone playing a wise-cracking PI with a cool car, so this is great casting. More obvious than Daniel Craig as a Southern-fried gentleman detective, but still really good. And the episode directors announced so far are really good, too: Rian Johnson, Lyonne herself, and Janicza Bravo. Everything about Poker Face looks great, and with the recent popularity of fun little murder mysteries, maybe it can actually overcome the Peacock handicap. Poker Face has a four-episode premiere on January 26, with new episodes following every Thursday.
As for a contemporary Columbo, I like the idea of reviving the weekly mystery format more than I do rebooting Columbo himself. Mostly because Columbo holds up, especially those early episodes in the 1970s. But Columbo’s popularity surged during early days of the pandemic in 2020, and if Poker Face does manage to break through the streaming noise, I wonder if anyone would be able to resist a full reboot. If it happens, if we do get a new Columbo, there’s really only one choice, as far as I’m concerned:
The rights to Columbo have been tied up for years in a lawsuit between the co-founders, William Link and the Richard Levinson estate, and NBCUniversal. If and when that is eventually resolved, there will very likely be a reboot of Columbo (it’s too lucrative not to). And when that day comes, Jake Johnson will be ready.
Attached - Lyonne out in New York earlier in December.