Netflix Brings 2019’s First Great Show with ‘Russian Doll’

Life can often feel like we’re stuck in a loop, repeating the same actions and patterns over and over again all while producing the same results each time. Occasionally we’ll make some progress only to be set back to square one by roadblocks both foreseen and unforeseen. Maybe there some trauma that you haven’t quite dealt with or perhaps its an addiction that you can’t seem to shake, whatever it is, it’s got you stuck in a loop that won’t end.

At first glance, Netflix’s new original series Russian Doll (the full 8-episode season dropped on Feb. 1, I’ve seen the whole thing) tackles that notion head-on. At first, it might seem like another slice-of-life/semi-autobiographical comedy a-la Master of None, but closer inspection reveals it to be so much more than that. This wildly inventive show, hailing from Orange is the New Black co-star, Natasha Lyonne, along with Leslye Hedlund and Amy Poehler, Russian Doll is more about how we process trauma than what it’s like to be 30 and living in New York.

Lyonne plays Nadia Vulvokov, a video game designer who on the night of her 36th birthday party dies and then wakes up again in her friend Maxine’s (Greta Lee) bathroom where the night starts over again. Sometimes she makes it a few days without dying, other times its a few minutes but each time she dies (in ways both hilarious and gruesome), she learns a little bit more about why she’s stuck in this neverending loop.

Natasha Lyonne as Nadia; Photo: Netflix

I’d never heard of Natasha Lyonne before Russian Doll premiered but now I’m wishing I’d paid more attention to her all these years. Her performance as Nadia is an incredible mixture of humor, unlikability, and deep sorrow. At first glance, Nadia might seem like every brash New York stereotype you’ve sever seen on TV but look a little closer and you’ll see a woman so deeply unhappy with her life that she’ll do anything to numb her pain. Lucky for her, she’s stuck in a time loop and has no choice but to deal with her problems!

If anything I’ve described sounds like the classic movie Groundhog Day, then you’ve got a decent understanding of what this show is about. It certainly wears its influences on its sleeve but smartly deviates from what’s expected thanks to sharp writing and amazing performances from actors like Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, and Elizabeth Ashley.

To say too much more would be to the detriment of watching Russian Doll. At only 8 half-hour episodes, this is the perfect Netflix binge. Each episode moves swiftly from scene to scene with nary a wasted moment and it all builds to a conclusion that is both shocking and emotionally resonant. If this is all we get of Russian Doll than it was time well spent but if Lyonne and Co. decide they have more story to tell, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Charlie Barnett and Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll; Photo: Netflix

Don’t let this show pass you by. Russian Doll is streaming in its entirety on Netflix now.

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