How ‘The Incredible Hulk’ TV series influenced Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne’s new detective series ‘Poker Face’

Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in Poker Face. (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in Poker Face. (Photo: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: a hard traveling hero with a very special superpower goes on the run, traversing America’s highways and byways and fighting crime along the way. That’s the plot of Peacock’s new mystery series Poker Face, starring Natasha Lyonne as fugitive card sharp Charlie Cale, who pulls into small town after small town in her vintage Plymouth Barracuda and solves murder cases thanks to an uncanny ability to see through lies with (metaphorical) X-ray vision.

But as fans of old-school “case of the week” television know, it’s also the premise of The Incredible Hulk — the vintage ’70s TV show starring Lou Ferrigno as Marvel’s resident rage monster and Bill Bixby as the mild-mannered scientist David Banner, who tries to keep his green alter ego in check. During its five-season run on CBS, Banner traveled all over the country actively trying to avoid confrontations that could trigger the Hulk… only to inevitably put those concerns aside when there were innocents in need of rescuing.

Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Poker Face creator Rian Johnson happily admits that the Hulk smashed so Charlie could… uh, smash some more. “Absolutely it’s got Incredible Hulk vibes in it,” the Glass Onion writer-director says, adding that episodic shows like Columbo, Highway to Heaven and Quantum Leap were also reference points. “Natasha in the Barracuda is the equivalent of [Bixby] walking down that dusty street in every episode onto the next town.”

Watch our inteview with the creator and stars of Poker Face below 

Lyonne says she’s gotten that same reaction from friends who have watched the show ahead of its Jan. 26 premiere — to the point where she feels as if Charlie is more like Ferrigno’s not-so-jolly green giant than Peter Falk’s perpetually rumpled detective. “Just because Peter Falk and I look so much alike, that’s what people assume,” she jokes. “And yet really, there is an Incredible Hulk quality to it.”

Not for nothing, but Charlie even has her own unique trigger for transforming into her crimefighter self. Whenever she catches a crook in a lie, she literally calls “bulls***” on them, and that kicks her sleuthing skills into gear. Johnson and Lyonne both agree that if this were the old Incredible Hulk TV series, her “bulls***” would be accompanied by flashing lights and the sound of clothes tearing as Charlie’s muscles expand to Hulk-ian proportions.

“Season 2, baby,” the actress teases. “I’m trying to convince Rian that we need to see that. I wanted to do it all as the Pink Panther, but y’know…”

It’s worth noting that the onscreen rights to the Hulk are currently shared by Marvel Studios and Universal Studios. That’s why Mark Ruffalo’s version can appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe-adjacent movies and Disney+ TV shows like She-Hulk: Attorney at Law in a supporting role, but a solo Hulk feature or television project would have to be distributed via Universal. Asked whether he’d do a straight-up Incredible Hulk TV reboot if a Universal-owned outlet like Peacock or NBC approached him, Johnson keeps his own poker face firmly intact.

“I think they’re doing just fine,” he says, laughing. “I haven’t seen the She-Hulk show, but it looks awesome. [Marvel] is doing fine without me. But if we have Natasha Hulk out in one of these Poker Face episodes someday, you’ll know the crossover has happened.”

Lyonne, on the other hand, has the pitch ready to go… with an assist from her Poker Face co-star Benjamin Bratt. “If it was called Her Hulk, [I’m in],” she says. “Listen, I’m just collecting projects so sure, why not?”

Lou Ferrigno as the title character in The Incredible Hulk. (Photo: ©Universal Television/courtesy Everett Collection)

Lou Ferrigno as the title character in The Incredible Hulk. (Photo: Universal Television/courtesy Everett Collection)

Besides vintage Marvel television, the Orange Is the New Black star says that her Poker Face portrayal is modeled after a modern Marvel star: Jeff Goldblum, who coincidentally enough appeared opposite the Ruffalo’s Hulk in 2017’s Thor: Ragnaork. Lyonne credits the fan-favorite actor with providing the inspiration for the way she moved in and out of character on set.

“I saw him on set when I was doing a Portlandia episode, and he does this thing where he keeps it kind of chatty with everybody, but by the time action is called, there’s no lapse. He’s not deviating from the person he was before, he’s figured out a way to create a space around him where nobody knows where he begins and the character ends. He doesn’t have to become a third person when he’s suddenly acting: he’s just living it that way.”

“It’s a funnier, weirder version of Method acting,” Lyonne continues. “It makes you less self-conscious because you’re staying light on your feet. I’ve asked Jeff about it since, because I was like, ‘This is a really savvy thing to do.'” Just like life, let’s hope another Goldblum-Lyonne collab finds a way… to the big screen.

Poker Face premieres Jan. 26 on Peacock.

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