- 29 Mar 19
Russian Doll is a loopy, darkly comedic series driven by Natasha Lyonne's pitch-perfect performance.
Every so often, Netflix puts out a series that pushes the television format forward in new and unexpected ways. In 2016, Stranger Things captured people’s attention with its talented young cast, sci-fi thrills, and a healthy dose of ‘80s nostalgia. Bojack Horseman delved into new territory for an animated comedy, with its willingness to explore the complexities of mental illness by deftly blending humour and emotional grittiness. Even as recently as last year, The Haunting Of Hill House showcased the possibilities of long-form horror, and included one of the most ambitious and effective hours of tension I’ve seen in a long time. The streaming giant has achieved this feat once again with Russian Doll.
The concept for the show created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, may seem overly familiar at first. In a Groundhog Day-esque series of events, Nadia (played by Lyonne) dies following her 36th birthday party, and is transported back to earlier in the night, only to die and restart the same evening over and over again. Of course, this particular narrative has taken on different forms throughout the years, with varying degrees of success. On one end of the spectrum is 50 First Dates, which is about as bad as you’d expect any Adam Sandler movie to be. At the other end, meanwhile there’s the impressive likes of Edge Of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day. Russian Doll confidently lands in the latter category, successfully mining the premise for fresh results and sustained intrigue.
At the end of the first episode, it’s hard to tell where exactly the storyline is heading, but that’s part of the fun. As the series progresses, new layers and intricacies add to the audience’s understanding of why Nadia is stuck in this seemingly endless time loop, and whether she’ll ever be able to escape it. Watching Lyonne’s character repeatedly die may seem like a depressing viewing experience, but a fresh script with a clever, self-assured sense of humour saves Russian Doll from becoming redundant.
The most vital element is Lyonne, who serves as executive producer, writer and star. Her performance is pitch-perfect, as she fully inhabits Nadia’s rough-around-the-edges, New York City realness, and consistently delivers incredible line reads with genuine emotion. Nadia is the kind of female character that television could use more of, and Lyonne pours herself into creating a fully-formed, multifaceted person.
Overall, Russian Doll is one of the best series you’ll watch (and most likely binge on) all year. With its powerhouse performances, sharp dialogue and entertaining plot, you won’t be disappointed.