Peacock's new series Poker Face has glowing reviews and seemingly only two problems. First, it's not the only 'Poker Face' in town. Yes, the Natasha Lyonne-led Poker Face suffers from name-space-pollution, as a 2022 Russell Crowe film of the same name shows up when you search "Poker Face reviews" online.
Secondly? Well, it's on Peacock. And as much as we at Tom's Guide love Peacock — it's one of our picks for the best streaming services — it's not really been a destination for must-see TV at this point. Girls5Eva was good, but is leaving for Netflix, and We Are Lady Parts is one of those under-the-radar hits.
The good news, though, is that the critics absolutely love Lyonne's Poker Face. The series currently holds a rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (though that site is currently buggy at the time of publication). And if Lyonne (Russian Doll) is not enough, Poker Face comes from director and creator Rian Johnson (Knives Out), who is riding high on public sentiment from Glass Onion.
Some folks, though, will still wonder — even after knowing all of that — if they should watch Poker Face. So, let's break it down.
What is Poker Face?
Poker Face, a new drama series with hour-ish-long episodes, debuted on Peacock today (Thursday, Jan. 26), with four episodes. In them, we meet Charlie Cale (Lyonne), a woman with innate sleuthing abilities. According to Johnson, Cale is inspired by Columbo, the detective whose face belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of TV detectives.
Poker Face begins with Cale working in a casino — where her skills for telling when people are lying are valuable. But, one thing leads to another with her boss Sterling Frost Jr. (Adrien Brody) and his employee Cliff Legrand (Benjamin Bratt), and Cale finds herself on the run.
Poker Face then becomes a mystery-of-the-week series. On her own, making something-close-to-a-living, and meeting tons of new people, Cale's life becomes an episodic mystery drama.
Along the way, she runs into a ton of odd characters played by notable guest stars. Among them are Ellen Barkin (Diner), S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order), Hong Chau (The Whale), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), and John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats). Each new person is connected to a new crime in a new town, and Poker Face becomes a road trip filled with questions.
Poker Face reviews: What critics say
As noted, Poker Face earned a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (though the site is currently experiencing technical difficulties at the moment). And that score is based on utter raves.
Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall's been raving about Poker Face, and his review applauds Lyonne for her "utterly magnetic and winning performance, where she is just as good on her own — say, tasting various types of wood to identify one of Lil Rel’s lies — as she is interacting with terrific guest stars like Hong Chau ... or Ellen Barkin." He also exclaims "what a relief and delight it is to see a TV show that actually wants to be a TV show, and that knows how to do that at this high a level. Johnson and Lyonne have said that they’d like to make Poker Face for as long as they possibly can. Here’s hoping they get a chance. This one’s wonderful."
Over at the BBC, Caryn James writes that "Poker Face is sly, easy, escapist fun," and says Cale "may be the most likeable, least acerbic character [Lyonne] has ever played, someone who can wear well over the course of a series."
Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich declares that "Natasha Lyonne comes off like the last pack of cigarettes in a world of vape pens." And if you think the early episodes are good, note that Franich sayus "Of the six episodes released to critics, my favorites come later, when showrunners Nora and Lilla Zuckerman start riffing."
Poker Face outlook: I'm going to watch, and you probably should too
Thursdays are my favorite night for catching up on TV that I'm behind on. That changes today, as Peacock has released four episodes of Poker Face, with six more coming weekly. Lyonne and Johnson are proven masters of their trade as of late, and while I didn't need the critical exuberance to want to watch, it's pushing me to start sooner rather than saving it for the coming weekend.
The overall word about Poker Face is that it's a cozy and extremely watchable modern noir, and that sounds like perfect escapist fare for the moment. Let's hope it's a hit and Peacock orders more. It could sure use a hit. I've kept Peacock for live WWE events, but I know that's far from a popular priority for most people. Hopefully, people won't let Peacock's $4.99 per month fee stop them from checking out Poker Face.