Review: Russian Doll – Season One

Producer(s): Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler, Lilly Burns, Allison Silverman
Director(s): Leslye Headland, Jamie Babbit, Natasha Lyonne
Writer(s): Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler, Allison Silverman, Jocelyn Bioh, Flora Birnbaum, Cirocco Dunlap
Composer: Joe Wong
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson, Jeremy Bobb, Ritesh Rajan, Yul Vazquez, Dascha Polanco
Distributor: Netflix
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Fantasy 
Rating: TV-MA

Russian Doll is an American comedy television series produced by Netflix premiering on February 1, 2019. The series was created by Natasha Lyonne, Lesley Headland, and Amy Poehler, and stars the aforementioned Natasha Lyonne. In September 2017, Netflix announced an eight-episode season of the series in partnership with Universal Television, Jax Media, and Paper Kite Productions. After seven years in development, principal photography began in February 2018 in Lyonnes’s own neighborhood of East Village in New York City. Russian Doll has been received overwhelming critical acclaim. The series scored an impressive 96% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an audience score of 87% and an 89 out of 100 on Metacritic. Netflix has yet to announce a second season of the series; however, with overwhelming reception, a second season seems inevitable.

Content Guide

(Viewer discretion is advised; this isn’t a show for children)

Spiritual Content: Nadia contemplates the existence of God during the time loop. Questions of morality often come up in conversations. Nadia questions whether she is in Heaven or Hell.
Violence: Nadia’s death scenes can be quite gruesome. From getting hit by cars, falling down a flight of stairs, to spontaneous choking on her own blood, Russian Doll can at times be grotesque. 
Language/Crude Humor: Foul language and curse words are used extensively throughout the series. Dialogue including an overabundant use of F**k, B***h, A**, C**t, S**t, and other distasteful language are a prominent feature of the show. The series is absolutely intended for a mature audience only. Inappropriate humor including sexually suggestive subjects, religion, and politics are prominent in the entirety of the show. 
Sexual Content: Nadia oftentimes engages in sexual behavior with multiple partners. Casual sexual behavior is practiced. In spite of its highly sexualized themes, very little nudity can be seen. Expect male with female, male on male, and female on female kissing. There is a scene where characters wake up from what seems to be a group sexual encounter complete with intimate toys. 
Drug/ Alcohol Use: During her times in crisis, Nadia abuses alcohol to the point of death. Excessive use of illegal drugs is prominent in the series. 
Other Negative Themes: Suicide and self-harm are explored and considered by the main character. 
Positive Themes: Human connection and relationships lead to resolution of past trauma. Mental illness and disorders are explored in a respectful yet honest view.

Story 

Russian Doll follows Nadia Vulvokov (Orange is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne) as she celebrates her 36th birthday with a huge party that has been thrown for her by some of her best friends. While indulging in drugs and alcohol, she begins to contemplate life and questions her existence and purpose. As she walks the streets of her neighboorhood in New York City, Nadia is abruptly killed, only to wake up to relive the events of her day. Now stuck in an endless time loop, Nadia is determined to discover its purpose and cause. As the seemingly endless cycle continues, Nadia discovers clues as to the cause of this phenomenon until she is once again killed just to wake up to relive the events of her 36th birthday again and again.

Review

Netflix’s Russian Doll is one of the best written series on any medium to date. High concept elements of time travel, parallel universes, alternate planes of existence, and alternate timelines are expertly matched with wisecracky, witty, sarcastic, and cynical dialogue. Natasha Lyonne perfectly embodies a jaded New Yorker as she stumbles through life just existing. Lyonne brings an abrasive yet charming vulnerability to the role which Lyonne states is based on her own personality. Charlie Barnett, who plays Alan Zaveri, excellently embodies an obsessive-compulsive personality. Barnett’s controlled and perfectly designed disposition is a magnificent contrast to Lyonne’s careless, free-spirited, and abrasive nature. Their relationship dynamic is a pleasure to watch.

New York City’s East Village becomes its own character in Russian Doll. As Lyonne traverses the famous neighborhood, the locations, streets, and unique character traits of the city are displayed in all of their gritty glory. The personality of New York  City comes alive, complete with a park dwelling homeless man offering free hair cuts to passersby and the mystery of a lost grocery store cat most New York City dwellers commonly refer to as a “Bodega Cat.” Russians Doll perfectly represents the diversity of the city while breathing life into its environments.

A stand out of the series is its soundtrack. Just as New York is the epitome of cultural diversity, the show’s soundtrack is just as diverse. Lyonne stated the choice of music for the series was extremely important to her. The soundtrack includes a pleasant mix of early 70’s pop rock, 60’s French pop, experimental pop, and Beethoven’s piano concerto. “Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson, the “RESET” song that plays when Nadia dies and awakes to relive the day was carefully chosen by Lyonne and will absolutely get stuck in your head.

Conclusion

One would think it would be difficult to find a new and refreshing story using the concept of a time loop scenario. Time loops and alternate timelines have been explored by movies such as Groundhog Day,  Edge of Tomorrow, and Happy Death Day, but Russian Doll absolute delivers with its own unique narrative. A major twist occurs mid-series which separates it from other time loop stories.  The series never takes itself too seriously. It mocks itself and has a sense of self-realization. The series combines sharp acting and spunky dialogue with charming characters and a high concept story arc in order to stand above the rest. Russian Doll sticks its landing in spite of its heavy metaphysical narrative. It avoids collapsing upon itself and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story. Its eight easily digestible twenty-five-minute episodes perfectly allow for an evening of engaging and thought-provoking binge watching.

The Bottom Line

If you enjoy witty, dark, vulgar, New Yorker type humor with an element of suspense and mystery, then Russian Doll is for you. This fast-paced, easily consumable dramady will leave you at the edge of your seat wanting more.

 

8.6

Noel Davila

Noel is a writer and performer based out of the New York City area. With a background in acting, theater arts, years of stage and screen writing, composing and scoring utilizing his skills as a singer song writer, Noel looks to be an all around creator in the arts. Many of the films Noel has written have been selected and featured at a number of Film Festivals including The New York International Film Festival, The Hudson Valley Film Festival, The Art is Alive Film Festival, ect and have gone on to be nominated and awarded for multiple awards including "Best Comedy Short" ,"Best Of", "Best make up", ect. Noel continues to perform live original music all across New York City

Leave a Reply