Like dying over and over isn’t hard enough. You actually expect me to evolve?
Thinking that Netflix’s 2019 series ‘Russian Doll‘ is just another ‘Groundhog Day’ rip-off would be a mistake. Co-creator and lead actor Natasha Lyonne ensures nothing saccharin exists in this looping New York, multiverse fable. A twisted, cynical, scathingly funny, and revelatory labyrinth of unending deaths and haunted lives.
Nadia Vulvokov (Lyonne) is a typical thirty-something self-destructive narcissist living day to day existence fueled on bitterness, sarcasm, cigarettes, booze, and a sea of meaninglessness in all things. Rinse, repeat.
Then one night, after bailing on her birthday party Nadia’s hit by a car and dies…only to be resurrected to a specific moment at that very party only a few hours earlier. Through a series of mystery-solving attempt escapades she just keeps absurdly dying and resurrecting in an endless haze. Rinse, repeat. Nothing makes sense and nothing she “changes” has any effect. That is, until she meets Alan (Charlie Barnett).
Alan’s been experiencing similar death and repeat loops as another lonely, oddball New Yorker. Finding each other takes Nadia and Alan down converging paths of self-discovery that doesn’t end where you think it will. I’m not sure anyone knows. That ambiguity and the wondrously dark recesses these characters go is just the spark to make ‘Russian Doll‘ stand above most other “loop” films and TV.
Lyonne’s typically acerbic, fearless New York honesty suits this series well. Ensuring that every subsequent “new” take on this repeating day uncovers more juicy morsels of truth and a few extra zingers of stinging humor. While Barnett offers a nice, socially awkward rose-colored counterpart.
I can’t discuss much without revealing spoilers, so I’ll simply praise the results. The writing is whip smart, the performances from a varied cast feel real, the limited New York settings offer a nice urban community vibe, and the story surprises around every corner. And with only eight 30-minute episodes nothing outlasts its welcome. Short and sweet–with plenty of room to grow if the series should continue.
Only a couple of small niggles: The early episodes rely a bit too much on a sitcom flow; and it takes too long to introduce Alan as things don’t truly take off until his appearance focuses the slapstick towards more meaningful directions.
Netflix once again proves it chops with Season One of ‘Russian Doll‘. A quirky, funny, and ultimately dramatic tale of a woman (and a man) stuck in an endless loop of self-loathing marked by poignant moments of revelation. Sounds like my life.