The magic of pokerface, aside from a winning performance from Lyonne and the careful stewardship from murder mystery maestro Rian Johnson, is that it finds a very compelling reason for its lead detective to ditch all technology early on. The series’ pilot introduces viewers to Charlie Cale, a seemingly mild-mannered cocktail waitress at Frost Casino. It just so happens that Charlie also has a unique talent: she is able to accurately tell when someone is lying.
Naturally, the casino boss’s failure Sterling Frost Jr. (Adrian Brody) seeks to put those talents to good use. In the process, however, Charlie discovers that Sterling has murdered her friend to cover up a high-roller’s illegal activities. Like any good detective, she unravels the mystery and ruins Sterling’s life in the process, leading him to jump out of a casino window to his death. Now Sterling’s father, the enigmatic Sterling Frost Sr., is on Charlie’s tail and he’ll move heaven and earth to find her.
The upshot of all of this is that Charlie Cale has to go well and truly off the grid to stay away from her powerful enemies: smartphone crushed to pieces, bank cards used sparingly, muscle car gassed up and ready to hit the road without stopping. Every subsequent episode in pokerface‘s case-of-the-week first season puts Charlie on a level technological playing field with her classic TV detective peers: the Columbos, Kojaks, and Jessica Fletchers of the world. Charlie can’t easily Google information about the people she suspects of murder … though she does email a tip to “[email protected]” at one point.
“Sometimes the presence of the cellphone is a story killer,” Nora Zuckerman, executive producer, writer, and Lilla’s sister, says. “You could just call for help. You can Google something. And Charlie doesn’t have that luxury. She’s off the grid, right? There’s certainly times on the show where she grabs somebody’s phone and looks at something or whatever. But really, being untethered from that technology was really fun. It gave us an opportunity to go a little old school with her methods. And it felt really freeing.”
Interestingly, pokerface co-creator, producer, and director Rian Johnson (Knives Out, Glass Onions) has a diverging take on the role of cell phones in murder mysteries.
“When I first started writing Knives Out and it was set in modern day, I thought ‘Am I going to hit a thing where I have to figure out like no cell reception or something?’” Johnson says. “But I found that cellphones didn’t actually really impede the mechanics of a murder mystery, the way they impede a horror movie’s mechanics.”