Peacock’s Poker Face: Is the TV Show Inspired by a True Story or a Book?

Image Credit: Sara Shatz/Peacock

Created by Rian Johnson, Peacock’s thriller series ‘Poker Face’ revolves around Charlie Cale, a “human lie detector” who can see through anyone’s poker face to identify a lie. Charlie gets forced to run away by a businessman after his son kills himself as a result of her discovery that the “junior” businessman is a murderer. As the series progresses, Charlie travels through several states and solves several murders one after the other. Intrigued by Charlie’s life and the cases she solves, we have set out to find out whether they are based on real life. Here’s what we could find! SPOILERS AHEAD.

Poker Face: Inspired by Mystery Shows

No, ‘Poker Face’ is not based on a true story or a book. Rian Johnson was inspired by the famed mystery shows of the second half of the late 20th century, especially ‘Columbo,’ ‘Magnum P.I.,’ ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ etc., to create the series. “I was thinking about what makes those shows tick and most of them are really kind of stealth hangout shows,” Johnson told Vanity Fair about the genesis of the series. However, the series didn’t get shaped into its current form until Natasha Lyonne came on board of the same.

Image Credit: Karolina Wojtasik/Peacock

After Johnson shared the foundation of a case-of-the-week detective show with Lyonne, they collaborated to conceive Charlie. Johnson, who is celebrated for his whodunits ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,’ wanted to try another murder mystery narrative structure in ‘Poker Face,’ which led him to “howcatchem.” Also known as an inverted detective story, the howcatchem format prominently focuses on the detectives’ attempts to find the murderers rather than the identity of the same, which can even be revealed early in the narrative.

The reference point for the structure might have been ‘Columbo,’ one of the most popular shows that employ the howcatchem structure exceptionally. Johnson also eventually decided to make his protagonist Charlie Cale a detective or police officer, possibly to make his series unique from the other case-of-the-week shows that inspired him to create the series. He integrated the element of a “human lie detector” to make Charlie unique.

“Once I landed on the idea that she’s not a cop or a detective, she’s not a mystery writer like Jessica Fletcher — this isn’t her job — then there was no specific thing that she’s got. So let’s give her a specific thing. What is something where credibly, she’ll be pulled into these things,” Johnson explained about the origin of Charlie’s most prominent characteristic to Rolling Stone.

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Charlie deals with a distinct murder in each of the episodes of the show. Johnson had a handful of shows to refer to structure his series the aforementioned way. “It’s The Fugitive, it’s Highway to Heaven, it’s The Incredible Hulk. Every week, a new town,” Johnson said in the same Rolling Stone interview. “The only thing that is even slightly serialized about it is her being on the run. I will say that at the finale, we bring it back around and pay off some of the things from the pilot. But everything in the middle is pick and choose. You can skip around,” he added.

Although Johnson’s primary inspirations were television shows of the past, the storylines he conceived for the show are highly rooted in reality and address some of the innate human emotions. The second episode of the series revolves around jealousy. In the third and fourth episodes, the murderers’ primary concern is their survival, which leads them to kill one of their own. These relatable storylines help the viewers to get immersed in the individuality of the episodes.

Read More: Where is Poker Face Filmed?