This show is a triumph, with many intriguing layers of darkness and humour.
When I first started watching Russian Doll, I never expected that I would be writing such a positive review for it. The first episode introduces a really interesting concept: the show revolves around Nadia, a woman celebrating her 36th birthday at a party with her friends. The only problem is, when she leaves she gets hit by a car and dies – and then she is transported back to the beginning of the party until she dies again, reliving the same night in a seemingly endless cycle. Comparisons to Groundhog Day are obvious, but there is something much darker about this – she tries to work out how this has happened to her, and her strange theories include a drug-fuelled psychosis, or living in a haunted building. These theories – as interesting as they are – do not seem to go anywhere, and for the first couple of episodes I felt that, like Nadia, us viewers were stuck in this endless cycle too. I had seen this labelled as one of the best Netflix Originals out there, but frankly I couldn’t see why it was getting so much hype.
However, I quickly changed my tune. By the end of the third episode, the twists and turns were so engrossing that it became very difficult not to binge-watch all the remaining episodes in one go (the show is a perfect length to do this, by the way; there are eight episodes, each around half an hour long). This was largely down to the introduction of Alan (played by Charlie Barnett), who, like Nadia, is stuck in this cycle of life and death. His version of events, however, is much more difficult to relive than Nadia’s, adding a new dimension to the show. The dynamic between the two changes throughout the show, and provides much of the emotional arc to the story as they both analyse their lives to work out how they ended up in this situation.
This is a very diverse show, with characters of many different ethnicities and sexualities. It is refreshing to see a show created by three women getting this much praise: they are Orange is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne, Parks and Recreation‘s Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, an American screenwriter and director. As a combination, this works brilliantly: Russian Doll is, despite the darker themes within it, a hilarious comedy with some fantastic one-liners, particularly from Greta Lee’s wonderful Maxine. Lyonne stars in the show as Nadia, who is incredibly likeable for her larger-than-life persona, but also for her insecurities that make her seem much more human.
Mental health is at the heart of this show, and they do a terrific job of highlighting very important contemporary issues. Whilst this is clearly a female-lead show, they raise awareness of male issues too, de-stigmatising the idea of asking for help. Elizabeth Ashley plays therapist Ruth, who has played a huge part in Nadia’s life and helps her to navigate her problems. Whilst the main plot of constantly dying may not be realistic, Russian Doll is so relevant to our society, acting as a true eye-opener for themes like this, and is likely to resonate with a lot of people.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but the critical acclaim it has received is much deserved, although it isn’t for the faint-hearted (it deserves its 18 rating too!). It is so difficult not to spoil the ending but it is best enjoyed when you have no expectations and are able to be moved by such a thought-provoking story. There are rumours of a second season, and it will be very interesting to see where it goes from here.
A word of warning though: you will inevitably end up with “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson on loop in your mind: oh well, it’s worth it!
Russian Doll is available to stream on Netflix now.