Hold us over 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, fighting crime along the way. That’s the plot of Peacock’s new mystery series Poker facestarring Natasha Lyonne as card-sharp fugitive Charlie Cale, who ventures into small town after small town in her vintage Plymouth Barracuda, solving 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 is also the starting point of The Incredible Hulk — the vintage 1970s TV show starring Lou Ferrigno as Marvel’s rage monster and Bill Bixby as mild-mannered scientist David Banner, trying to keep his green alter ego in check. During his five-season run on TBEN, Banner traveled across the country actively avoiding confrontations that might trigger the Hulk… inevitably putting those concerns aside when there were innocents to save.
In conversation with Yahoo Entertainment, Poker face creator Rian Johnson is happy to admit that the Hulk broke so Charlie could… break even more. “Absolute Incredible Hulk vibes in it,” the Glass onion writer-director says, adding that episodic shows are fun 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 to the next town in every episode.
Check out our interview with the creator and stars of Poker face below
Lyonne says she’s gotten the same reaction from friends who watched the show ahead of its Jan. 26 premiere — to the point where she feels Charlie looks more like Ferrigno’s not-so-cheerful green giant than Peter Falk’s perpetually rumpled detective. “Just because Peter Falk and I look so much alike, people assume that,” she jokes. “And yet there really is one Incredible Hulk quality to it.”
Not for nothing, but Charlie even has her own unique trigger to transform into her crimefighter self. Whenever she catches a crook in a lie, she literally yells “bulls***” at them, which kicks her sleuthing skills into gear. Johnson and Lyonne both agree that if this was the old one Incredible Hulk In TV series, her “bulls***” would be accompanied by flashing lights and the sound of ripping clothes as Charlie’s muscles expand to Hulk-esque proportions.
“Season 2, baby,” the actress teases. “I’m trying to convince Rian that we should see that. I wanted to do it all as the Pink Panther, but you know…”
It’s worth noting that the Hulk’s on-screen rights are currently shared between Marvel Studios and Universal Studios. Therefore, Mark Ruffalo’s version may appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe adjacent movies and Disney+ TV shows such as She-Hulk: lawyer in a supporting role, but a solo Hulk feature film or television project should be distributed through Universal. Asked if he would do a straight-up Incredible Hulk Restarting TV as an outlet of Universal as Peacock or NBC approached him, Johnson keeps his own poker face firmly intact.
“I think they’re doing just fine,” he says with a laugh. “I have the She Hulk show, but it looks great. [Marvel] doing fine without me. But if we have Natasha Hulk in one of these Poker face episodes one day, you’ll know the crossover has happened.”
Lyonne, on the other hand, has the field ready to go… with an assist from her Poker face opponent Benjamin Bratt. “If it was called Her Hulk, [I’m in]she says. “Listen, I just collect projects, so sure, why not?”
In addition to vintage Marvel television, the Orange is the new black star says her Poker face image is modeled after a modern day Marvel star: Jeff Goldblum, who coincidentally appeared opposite the Ruffalo’s Hulk in 2017’s Thor: Ragnaork. Lyonne credits the fan-favorite actor for providing the inspiration for the way she moved in and out of her character on set.
“I saw him on set when I was doing one Portlandia episode, and he does this thing where he sort of talks it out with everyone, but by the time action is called, there’s no wasted time. He doesn’t deviate from the person he was before, he’s figured out a way to create a space around him where no one knows where he starts and the character ends. He doesn’t have to become a third person when he suddenly acts: he just lives it that way.”
“It’s a funnier, weirder version of Method acting,” Lyonne continues. “It makes you less self-conscious because you stay light on your feet. I’ve been asking Jeff about it ever since, because I thought, ‘This is a really smart thing to do.'” Let’s hope, just like life. another Goldblum-Lyonne collaboration is making its way… to the big screen.
Poker face premieres January 26 on Peacock.