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Poker Face - The Future of the Sport + The Orpheus Syndrome - Review

3 Mar 2023

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In the penultimate episodes before the penultimate episode (there’s gotta be a better word for that - second-to-second-to-last?) Poker Face shows promise, but leaves something more to be desired. Read on for my review of “The Future of the Sport” and “The Orpheus Syndrome”:

In “The Future of the Sport,” Charlie’s job at an arcade incidentally entangles with a high-profile rivalry between two local drag race drivers: Kyle Owens (Tim Blake Nelson), a legacy champion who is hesitant to pass his crown onto his daughter, and Davis McDowell (Charles Melton), a tempermental young upstart who is giving the Owens’ a run for their money. Sabotage and attempted murder abound, and Charlie finds herself caught in the middle of it all.

“The Orpheus Syndrome” sees Charlie designate herself as the new protégé of an enigmatic yet crotchety former director (Nick Nolte) haunted by the accidental death of an actress on his movie set decades earlier. However, as other former members of the production slowly end up dead around the same time that the behind the scenes footage of the ill-fated production is dug up, Charlie zeroes in on a former crew member (Cherry Jones) who seems to have something to hide.

Both of these episodes were definitely a good time, but I feel like these might end up being the overall weakest hours of the season. In a crucial time that is important to build up momentum for the finale, it feels like these episodes slam on the brakes instead of carrying the narrative in any way forward (and I’m not just saying that so as to insert a car pun). As a “monster of the week” type show, not including anything about the main plotline each week is forgivable, but it still does feel like something is missing in most episodes in terms of advancing either the plot or Charlie as a character, leaving each episode hollow of much memorability.

“The Future of the Sport” was at times grating to watch, as its main sell was “hothead versus hothead,” a match-up I’ve never personally been a big fan of. Although, I will admit it was interesting to see the twisty, vicious rivalry play out. It finally felt like this episode nailed the “no real justice”-style conclusion that many of the previous episodes have been searching for, but it was still fairly predictable and rather underwhelming as an episode overall.

“The Orpheus Syndrome” had a lot of excellent elements that had quite a bit of potential to make a really great hour of TV; most of note would be the moody final scene where Jones’ character faces her final reckoning, shot to imitate the 80’s horror movies the episode pays tribute to. But beyond its interesting themes of guilt and being haunted, as well as its more stylized touches, the episode feels like it has just very little to offer by way of intrigue.

Natasha Lyonne, undoubtedly the glue keeping Poker Face together every time it threatens to come apart, felt a bit more on the backburner in these episodes, something that baffled me. It feels like each episode wants to either heavily feature Charlie and barely feature any of the other characters, or center entirely around the mystery and have Charlie as kind of a background accessory to call out “Bullshit” when need be. I’m not sure why the lead actress-to-guest star ratio needs to be out of whack like that; I think it’s a huge contributor to my mixed feelings on most of the episodes so far. “Rest in Metal” balanced the scales well, but other than that, I feel like most of the scripts needed maybe just one more rewrite to make the whole flow of the narrative a bit tighter in terms of characters.

I'll admit, it feels like I am kind of being too hard on Poker Face as a whole in these reviews. All things considered, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the show - it just has all of the same growing pains in terms of style and storytelling that many first seasons have. The unevenness in mystery and the lack of delivery on what the promos suggested don’t really doom the show, in my eyes (although I think its general lack of cultural impact does more to that effect). But the whole season thusfar has continually lacked a je ne sais quoi, and a direction that it feels like it should have at least sort of found by now. So while it’s still a good time with some entertaining guest appearances and a killer lead performance, that's not going to make it show of the year on its own.

That all being said, these episodes were most certainly underwhelming, but that doesn’t stop me from genuinely enjoying this show every week. And on that note, because this review was a bit late, I had the chance to watch episode 9 before publishing and…well…let’s just say next week’s review is going to be a lot of fun.

What did you think of “The Future of the Sport” and “The Orpheus Project?” Let me know in the comments!