Rian Johnson Says His New Show Isn’t Really A Mystery

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Rian Johnson says his new series Poker Face is more about the lead actor, Natasha Lyonne, than the mysteries each episode will introduce.

By Vic Medina
| Published

Rian Johnson on the set of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson is back in the genre that has suited him best – the detective/mystery genre, and not just because of his sequel to Knives Out, Glass Onion. The Last Jedi director is about to debut his first-ever series, Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll, Orange is the New Black) as Charlie Cale, a detective with the uncanny ability to tell if someone is lying to her. She travels the roads in her Plymouth Barracuda, encountering strange crimes and odd, new characters in each episode, as she sets out to solve the mysteries no one else can, only Johnson insists the mystery part is not what makes the show watchable.

The 10-episode series for the Peacock streaming service is structured like the mystery-of-the-week shows and TV movies that used to be all the rage in the 1970s and 1980s. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Rian Johnson says Poker Face is similar to classic shows like Columbo, Magnum, P.I. or The Rockford Files, but the appeal is in the lead actor, not the particular mystery being solved. “The reason these shows work is because they have a central figure who is incredibly watchable. You want to hang out with them every week. It’s not really about the mystery — the way sitcoms aren’t really about the jokes,” he said.

There hasn’t been a show on TV like this since Monk, the USA network series starring Tony Shalhoub that went off the air in 2009. Johnson says this sort of storytelling has been left to network procedurals, but he’s ready to revive what he calls “nonserialized, case-of-the-week shows. You can jump in anywhere and know how the show works. It’s something I kind of miss,” he said. Having an actress of Natasha Lyonne’s caliber in the lead of Poker Face will certainly help.

Natasha Lyonne
Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll

The series premieres on January 26, 2023 and will feature an impressive list of guest stars, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in Rian Johnson’s breakout hit Looper. Adrien Brody, Benjamin Bratt, Cherry Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Clea DuVall, Ellen Barkin, Jameela Jamil, Lil Rel Howery, Luis Guzmán, Nick Nolte, Rhea Perlman, Ron Perlman, Simon Helberg, Tim Blake Nelson and Tim Meadows are all confirmed to appear in episodes.

Natasha Lyonne has built an impressive career resume in both mainstream and indie film, although her first credited role was as one of the kids on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in 1986, when she was only seven years old. By the late nineties, her career had kicked into high gear when she starred in back-to-back-to-back hits: Slums of Beverly Hills, American Pie, and Detroit Rock City. However, she really became a darling of critics and indie movie fans with her role in 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader, playing Megan, a young girl sent to a rehab camp when her family and friends suspect she is a closet lesbian.

Lyonne has also carved out an impressive voice acting career, with notable roles in Big Mouth, Steven Universe, and The Simpsons.

In 2013, she was nominate for her first Emmy as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. She would go on to earn another three nominations in 2019 for her work writing, producing, and starring in Russian Doll (Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy). That series was co-created by Leslye Headland, who is now heading up the new Star Wars live-action series for Disney+, The Acolyte.

In the meantime, fans await word on whether Rian Johnson will ever be able to making his planned Star Wars film – or trilogy – as the project remains up in the air.