How does one approach discussing a show like “Russian Doll”? One of my friends said, “if you trust me, go watch it,” and truthfully, this is my exact recommendation for everyone.
This is the kind of show that benefits the viewers going in blind more because it’s a delight to watch the plot slowly unfurl and things come together. Created by Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland and Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll” rockets up the list of best things on Netflix. In fact, it is in the running for best show of the year. Watch it before anyone has a chance to divulge its secrets to you.
If you must learn more information before taking the plunge, I’ll give you this: Lyonne stars as Nadia, who is introduced in the bathroom of her friend’s apartment. It’s her 36th birthday, and everyone has come to celebrate. She’s instantly likeable, funny, cantankerous and a little bit of a jerk.
While out looking for her cat later that night, she’s struck by a car and dies in the street. She instantly finds herself right back in that bathroom, alive and well. Is this simply “Groundhog Day”? Yes. However, Nadia’s loop resets only when she dies. Occasionally, she gets to the next day before kicking the bucket.
The central mystery surrounding the show is why she’s stuck here, and how she’s going to get out. Suffice to say, more than a few twists pop up, and they never feel anything less than expertly deployed. This is not one of those puzzle shows that will leave you frustrated. In fact, I blew through the entire season in a day, and it has left me wanting more.
A big reason for my binge is Nadia herself. You may have seen Lyonne before on “Orange is The New Black,” and she gets a chance to really extend herself here. Nadia has a complicated life, even before she gets trapped in a nightmare, and the show takes time to gradually poke at her history and her fears.
Despite this, you never get the sense that it’s falling into a bleak place, and the writers walk the tonal tightrope with finesse. The direction is also stellar, with seven of the episodes split between Headland (also known for “Bachelorette”) and Jamie Babbit, and Lyonne directing the final one.
It’s a weird show, and at times, goes to a particularly surreal place. Despite this, every moment feels part of the whole. It helps that it’s not overtly stylized either, which lets you focus on the wealth of substance.
I realize this may not quite explain why “Russian Doll” is so good. It’s witty, warm and smart, but it never pushes over the top. There’s a lot I could discuss with the ways it approaches mortality, grief and mental illness, but doing so would rob you of the pleasures of finding out for yourself.
For now, I can simply say that it’s never frustrating to watch despite being described as a puzzle box. It’s a show that goes down smoothly, while still leaving you clamoring for more.