Life, Death, and Good Banter: A Review of Russian Doll

Rarely does comedy appeal to me. Even in my neverending search for something new or interesting to watch, if a show or movie appears to have been conceived for the purpose of making people laugh, even with an intriguing concept backing it, I am usually inclined to pass. Why this is would probably be a discussion best reserved for another time. However, in the case of Russian Doll, I was compelled to make an exception. I can’t say if it was because the premise was clearly reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood movies, or perhaps because there was something in the presentation that indicated that there would be more to this show, under the surface, than just comedic exploits, or maybe it was just that the episodes were short and few in number. Whatever it was that called me to make an exception on my “no comedy” rule, it’s a leap I’m glad I took.

Russian Doll, starring Natasha Lyonne, centers around Nadia, an amusingly, almost painfully cynical woman who finds herself repeatedly dying and returning to the same moment, staring in the bathroom mirror as her 36th birthday party is well underway. Reasonably panicked, she initially believes herself to be experiencing a bad drug trip, and when she realizes this is not the case, she sets out to find a way to free herself from the cyclical hell that is turning 36 over and over again.

While Russian Doll, as most stories that center around characters stuck in a loop, does not totally shake itself free from repetition (you will be VERY well acquainted with the opening lines of Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” by about the third episode), it does set itself apart in many ways. While Nadia is resurrected repeatedly at the exact same moment each time, there are minor to major discrepancies and changes in each loop that indicate that there is more going on than just a basic reset. As if the world around her is subject to the same entropy at each reset, despite all the variable being presumably the same. There are also other details that become more apparent over the course of the series, but more astute viewers may catch onto even earlier, that do serve to give the viewer a sort of looming sense of dread. The show leaves it largely up to the viewer to speculate on the nature of what is occurring, in regards to the science or mysticism behind Nadia’s predicament. However, Nadia does at some point begin to ponder the implications of her numerous deaths, along the lines of multiverse theory, and finds herself feeling a sort of guilt over those other timelines, in which her friends and loved ones have been faced with mourning and grieving over her death. You never once see Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day even consider the feelings of that poor hotel worker who had to walk in and find him fried and naked in the bathtub, just saying.

The true bread and butter of the series is the dialogue. The scripting offers a constant, relentless stream of wit. While the thirty minute episodes combined with Nadia’s tireless misadventures seem to leave little time for her interactions to be particularly deep or impactful, and even feel steeped in obscurity at times, I found that I could recall nearly every one as if it was the most important scene in the show, largely due to the clever and blunt writing. Fans of good dialogue will very quickly realize they’ve made the right choice in tuning in to Russian Doll.

While the series passes swiftly and ends all too soon, it was simultaneously a relief to be able to experience the whole story in just a few short sittings. There was no part of the series that felt like filler, and the ending, which introduced a rapid shift in the dynamic of the show, was tense and thrilling, and left just the right amount of unanswered questions to give room for speculation and discussion afterward. I am definitely looking forward to more seasons of Russian Doll in the future, so please, check it out on Netflix, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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