Poker Face Showrunners Lilla and Nora Zuckerman on the Joys of Writing for Natasha Lyonne | TV/Streaming


Lilla: And it’s not just the dialogue, either, but also when we’re thinking about the story and the situations. In episode 103, her sidekick is a MAGA dog. And you think, “What is it going to be like for Natasha to get into an argument with a dog over a racist radio station?” And you’re just giggling in the room thinking about it, because you want to plop her down in those situations and just let it rip.

Cailin: As someone who is in journalism and doesn’t really write fiction, I find it intriguing to imagine how you pull worlds and characters and conflict from what feels to me like thin air. How does that work for you? What is the process of sitting down and saying, “This is where I want the story to go.” Do you know from the beginning what you want? Does it play out over time?

Nora: Sometimes the best days in the room are when it does come easily. You say, “Oh, it’s a barbecue restaurant, and we’re going to do this, then that!” But of course, it never is that easy. Sometimes you have the perfect location but you just can’t figure out what the mystery is. In the room, we pitched a lot of different worlds that we ended up not using, because we just couldn’t crack our way in. We couldn’t decide what the mystery was. And those are not necessarily stories that go away. A lot of times in the writers’ room, you refer to the “story graveyard,” although somebody recently referred to it as a parking lot, and I was like, “I like that idea.” You just take the idea and you put it in a parking lot, and maybe you’ll pull it out later. For “Poker Face,” though, we didn’t really want to have any hard and fast rules as to where the idea could come from. It could come from a character, it could come from a world, it could come from the way we wanted to see the perfect murder happen. There are a lot of shows that say, “I want the character first, and then this, and then that.” We really just pulled from everywhere, and it worked for us.

Hannah: I am fascinated by true crime, but on a show like this there are all these moving parts, like a criminal’s motive, that you are fully manufacturing. I will try to avoid spoilers, but there are certain moments where it’s like, “Whoa…”

Cailin: For example, in episode nine, when we find out who’s in the tree!

Hannah: How do you create moments like that where you have to think, how would somebody get away with that murder? 

Cailin: Because you can’t just be creative. It has to be logical. 

Lilla: It starts off with a simple thread, almost like the trunk of a tree and you’re putting branches on it as it grows. Like the spine of the story that’s holding it together. For a lot of these episodes, we would have a world, maybe a couple characters—but until we latched onto what the spine of the story was going to be, we couldn’t get it going. Then you start elaborating on that. You get to a point where, let’s say, you’ve nailed the story structure and you have the case, then you can start to think, “Well, what is the audience’s POV? What are they going to expect to happen, and how can we subvert those expectations?” And that’s storytelling, right? You have to tell it in a strategic way where you are getting those moments of “WTF, what did I just see?” Those moments are very carefully engineered. Sometimes we even started with that as a concept. Like, “I want the audience to think that this is two people about to kill each other and then this other thing happens.” And sometimes that comes later. It’s all part of the process of going through the story over and over and over again and finding those moments.


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