Saturday, February 11, 2023
Poker Face and the Spiritual Reboot
Scott D. Parker
Poker Face had me at Rian Johnson. But had I not known it was his brainchild, the show would have had me at the title font.
That yellow font on the title card, the year represented by Roman numerals. What decade are we in? Well, the headspace of creator Rian Johnson was the 1970s and 1980s with shows like Colombo and The Rockford Files. I suspect he gets nostalgically triggered when he sees the title cards of those shows and others and wanted to bring sensibility forward to the 2020s.
What sensibility is that? A traditional crime-of-the-week series. But not just that: a new crime every week with a whole new cast. Which brings me to another 1970s TV it reminds me of: The Incredible Hulk. Both feature a lead who is being chased across the country, meeting new people every week.
Now I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of crime-of-the-week shows from Law and Order to Castle to all those shows on CBS I don’t watch. That’s not new. No, it’s not, but the laid-back aesthetic is a refreshing return to a modern TV landscape full of season-long streaming shows to modernized takes on old tropes.
Both of those things are fine, and I enjoy them, but I also appreciate the slower paced TV shows that used to dominate networks with stakes that are not really that high. And I very much applaud Johnson for channeling that vibe into something new rather than a modern reboot of an old franchise.
He could just have acquired the rights to, say, Colombo (the obvious ancestor to Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie Cale) and created a story around Colombo’s grandkid who is a rumpled detective just like Peter Faulk. I’d watch that and chances are, you would, too. But we’d constantly be comparing the new actor/actress to Faulk, much to the detriment of the new show. Also, we’d probably have the admittedly fun “sequel” to some random episode that no one remembers save the dedicate Colombo fans.
No, what Johnson did was take all those elements and, crucially, made something new, unique, and his own. That last bit is probably the key factor for Johnson. Given the opportunity, he’d probably make a Colombo sequel or adapt some Agatha Christie novel in to a movie, but with Poker Face and Knives Out and Glass Onion, he gets to revel in all the stuff he loves while playing in his own sandbox.
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