Natasha Lyonne Really, Really Wanted to Play Columbo
This week sees the debut of Rian Johnson's Poker Face, the show in which Natasha Lyonne plays a woman who can somehow know if anyone is lying 100 percent of the time, which probably means this is a stealth X-Men spin-off. Now, “human lie detector solves crimes“ may sound like a pretty novel premise for a show, but this is actually based on a very old formula — the same formula that made “one more thing“ the most feared words for criminals worldwide.
Yes, Poker Face has more in common with Columbo than the raspiness of the main character’s voice. For one thing, when there was a meme going around saying that Lyonne should play Columbo in 2020, she made it clear that she was willing to beat up Mark Ruffalo for the part.
A quick Twitter search reveals that Lyonne has been name-dropping Columbo since 2014, once even referring to herself as “Baby Columbo,” which sounds like a much better spin-off than that Mrs. Columbo show that implied the beloved detective was a child molester. And, as it happens, around the time Lyonne sent that Ruffalo tweet/threat, Rian Johnson was spending quarantine marathoning Columbo and tweeting about it. As a Columbo fan and one of today’s most terminally online directors, it stands to reason that Johnson would have seen those “let Natasha Lyonne play Columbo” tweets. Did the internet meme this show into existence?
But the Columbo connection goes deeper than that. According to Johnson, the fact that you find out who the killer is at the start of every episode means that Poker Face isn’t a “whodunnit,” like his movies Knives Out and Glass Onion, but a “howcatchem,” like Columbo or the anime series Death Note. Or the Columbo Meets Death Note crossover that, of course, exists on YouTube.
Johnson has also said that the “mysteries” only account for like 10 percent of Columbo’s appeal — the real allure of the show is that you get to hang out with Peter Falk for an hour. Poker Face has a similar approach in that it’s all about spending time with Lyonne and a different guest star/murderer every week. In fact, when asked about her favorite Columbo episode, Lyonne singled out the one that was just an excuse for Falk to pal around with his good buddy John Cassavetes. Not coincidentally, Poker Face reunites Lyonne with Orange is the New Black and Russian Doll co-star Dascha Polanco and BFF and executor to her estate Chloë Sevigny.
Hopefully, Poker Face’s existence doesn’t close the door to Lyonne becoming the fourth actor to play Columbo (Peter Falk was only the third). Watch your ass, Ruffalo.
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