Russian Doll is a meticulously crafted dramedy, starring the charming Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, the protagonist of this riveting first season. Lyonne not only stars in the show, but she also directed and co-created Russian Doll with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland. All together, they created an extraordinary and thoughtfully existential eight episode series.
The plot follows cynical Nadia in New York City, through the most life-changing, mind-boggling, crazed night of her life. She can’t seem to stop dying, shedding shocking layer after layer of the plot until the unpredictable ending. Nadia is stuck celebrating her 36th birthday for the rest of time in an unending time loop. and None of her friends or family quite register this though because they repeat the same actions everyday like clockwork. Interactions with her hard-partying friends, (Greta Lee and Rebecca Henderson), her ex-boyfriend (Yul Vazquez), and her therapist that also fills in as Nadia’s surrogate mother (Elizabeth Ashley) all interchangeably mix to create an engaging dynamic. Nadia’s actual mother (Chloë Sevigny), is identified through numerous flashbacks in which she is portrayed as a frenzied guardian that takes care of Nadia as a young girl. This adds to the ominous feeling of the show, making the audience desire more pieces of her past, while simultaneously shedding light on Nadia’s character.
After each episode, the plot becomes more captivating and intricate, leading the audience to be confused about what’s going to happen next. All of the episodes also utilize the theme of the show to display questions about death and the afterlife through Nadia’s reoccurring deaths in her own personal limbo. As Nadia quickly determines the limbo-like loop that she’s trapped in, she encounters Alan (Charlie Barnett), figuring out that he too keeps dying, soon becoming Nadia’s partner in their own never-ending loop. Upon the unfolding of Alan’s own story, he almost assumes his role robotically, staring into the reoccurring mayhem with disregard, making his motivations and intentions unclear. Although there are clues and twists embedded in each episode, we find out that Alan’s role in the show is imperative to the development of the plot. He is the piece that allows them to both navigate and figure out the intricacies of their shared situation.
Together, Alan and Nadia figure out that they need one another to learn more about themselves and each other, adding to the unraveling of the puzzling narrative. Lyonne and Barnett effectively perform their roles, carrying out the delicate dynamic of their characters carefully and successfully. Both actors prove to be excellent scene partners, especially where there is room to stretch the comedic and dramatic effects.
Russian Doll is the perfect blend of the genres, allowing the audience to unpack the scenes over and over if they chose to watch it again. It raises questions and approaches topics such as relying on other people, grieving, and mortality. Even in the presence of these serious topics, Lyonne never fails to punctuate the scenes with her shrap comedic timing. It’s eight short, unanticipated, plot-driven episodes whose unparalleled characters give way to its satisfying ending that leaves you wanting so much more.