Why Russian Doll is the best thing on Netflix right now


A fresh take on a repetitive story, Russian Doll is so powerful, intriguing, and funny in all the right places, you’ll wish you could go back and experience it all over again.

From the minds of Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland comes a fresh new take on a what is essentially 1993’s Groundhog Day — with a lot less Bill Murray and lot more death. Russian Doll stars Nadia, played by Natasha Lyonne in a role she seems to have been born for, a young woman who meets a sticky end on her birthday only to be transported back to her friend’s delightfully Art-Deco bathroom to start all over again. No matter how many times she dies (and there’s quite a few different ways — falling down stairs, choking on a chicken bone), she seems destined to repeat this morbid journey over and over again.

Morbid might have been the key word here, if not for Poehler and Headland’s ability to lace a tragic story with truly comic moments. The narrative itself is pretty grim — Nadia mistakes it for a terrible cocaine-fueled trip at first — but within Russian Doll‘s cycle of death are some genuine and loud laughs.

Lyonne herself is the key to this balance between light hearted japes and a far more serious undertone. Lyonne has previously proved herself in Orange is the New Black and before that in But I’m a Cheerleader, so there was never any doubt about her ability to show such emotional range. However, Russian Doll sees her do the vast majority of the work in terms of an unresolved childhood trauma, and Lyonne delivers each blow like a champion.

Though Russian Doll is Lyonne’s show (with a fantastic secondary protagonist in Charlie Barnett’s Alan),  Headland and Poehler rope in an impressive ensemble supporting cast to fill in the gaps. Greta Lee and Rebecca Henderson are Nadia’s long suffering and hilarious best friends who just want to throw her a good party and, in a smaller role, Dascha Polanco is Alan’s girlfriend who breaks up with him and over and over again.

Russian Doll does start off a little slow. The first few episodes set up the inklings of Nadia’s backstory (the death and illness of her mother) but mostly focuses on the party, Nadia’s social life and her realization that it might not be those Israeli cigarettes that have set her on this infinite death loop. This does lead to someone wonderful sequences — Nadia routinely dying on the stairs, conversations with her drug dealer, and a stand out body camera scene where we follow Nadia through the party as she picks up every single bottle she can find.

It’s not until Nadia and Alan have a coincidental meeting in a faulty elevator at the end of episode 3 (“A Warm Body”) that the show begins to pick up the pace. Barnett and Lyonne have such engaging chemistry onscreen together and it’s a nice shift from the usual expectations of romance that these two actually have a different kind of connection. Once the two of them realize that something altogether weird is going on, Russian Doll comes into its own. Part mystery and part thriller, it’s never completely clear what is going on but one thing is clear; kindness and empathy will get you everywhere. Also, you can’t move forward until you deal with the baggage that’s holding you back.

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The mystical forces behind Nadia and Alan’s journey may never be revealed, but two things will always be true; Maxine and her chicken are the two constants of the universe, and the way Natasha Lyonne pronounces “cockroach” will live with all of us forever. Russian Doll is very much worth your time, and if you are lucky, you might just get to repeat it all again sometime.