“Russian Doll” is one of the newest offerings on Netflix. My husband and I were looking for a new show to watch and caught the trailer for this. We were instantly intrigued and couldn’t wait to watch it. Our instincts were dead on. This is one of the best new shows on Netflix with a surreal quality and sublime acting.
Co-created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Poehler, “Russian Doll is about a woman, Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne), who dies on her thirtieth birthday. The problem…she gets waking up back at the beginning of her birthday party reliving the night and dying endlessly. She’s not able to find any answers to her unusual problem until she meets Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) who’s also dying every day. Using their endless loop, the pair try to solve the mystery of why they keep dying as pieces of their lives and people they care about disappear bit by bit. Unlike shows like Timeless, this deals with time set in a loop in which the characters must come up with a way to exit the loop and the only way to do so is for each to examine their lives which is the best quality of this original show.
The first aspect that catches your attention is the music. The show begins with Nadia in the bathroom. As she exits, heading into the birthday crowd, the song permeates and sets the mood for the entire show. It is a perfect choice, “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson. The title alone gives the viewer clues about Nadia’s day, as each time she resets and starts over the music begins over again, continuing the theme of her getting up and trying to solve her day. I expect this piece of an earworm to be newly revisited by fans of the series. The rest of the music echoes this first choice, a soundtrack that is memorable and sets the style for the entire show.
While some are comparing this intriguing show to “Groundhog’s Day” because of the time loop concept, this is a much darker and thoughtful plot, not played for comedy but rather offering an insightful look into the characters pasts and their psychological quirks, their desires, their inability to move past events in their lives until their newfound deaths wake them up metaphorically speaking. Nadia and Alan appear at first glance to be polar opposites but each has stayed in one place, not moving forward in their lives until they begin dying and until they meet each other. The plot is a profoundly introspective look into how one individual can impact another, how the choices that we make influence others in large and small ways. This thoughtfulness is what makes the plot so incredible, so worth watching more than once to catch all the nuances and layers of this amazing show.
The deftness with which the director (Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit, and Natasha Lyonne) and the writers keep each plot thread going and keeps track of each tangent, each timeline that the pair experiences is phenomenal. As part of the story, we also get more than Nadia’s point of view, we get Alan’s and not once does the story miss a beat as his timeline syncs up with Nadia’s. Every detail is perfectly aligned, even when there are fluctuations due to changes Alan and Nadia make.
While I can rave about the writing and filming, I don’t want to neglect the acting of either principle actor. Their performances are some of the finest I have seen on a television show. I would expect nothing less from Natasha Lyonne of “But I’m a Cheerleader “ fame. She captures her role, utterly becoming Nadia. Her chemistry and how she engages with her co-star Charlie Bennett is rich and full of depth, even in her most sarcastic and witty. Charlie Bennett is soulful as Alan. The growth of both characters is the essence of what makes this show great, as we see both actors portray their struggles and learn to lean on another person.
It is not just the main characters that perform their parts so well. Both individuals are surrounded by a host of secondary characters. Among the stand out performances are Elizabeth Ashley who plays Nadia’s aunt Ruth who helped raise her. She is witty and wise in her portrayal. Alan has his ex-girlfriend Beatrice (Dascha Polanco) who he was planning to propose to until she dumps him. She manages to be engaging, even though you feel for Alan. Among the other great performances are Nadia’s friend Maxine (Greta Lee) who is the host of the party, Nadia’s ex John Reyes (Yul Vazquez) and the man Alan’s girlfriend was having an affair with, Mike Kershaw (Jeremy Bobb). All of them do such a great job with their parts and are so authentic that it’s impossible not to binge-watch this show.
Gritty, surreal, and an incredible plot that has depth, this is one that should win awards for its innovative characters, writing, and attention to detail. If you like stories that deal with time and characters that are different, I think this might be right for you. The characters grow and the mystery of Nadia and Alan’s dilemma will keep you guessing. The plot is layered, perceptive and stunning. I am on the edge of my seat hoping for more from this talented group. If you haven’t caught it yet, go check out the trailer on Netflix!
Rating: 5 out of 5 deaths