By Dave B.
The plot of Russian Doll (Netflix) is fairly straightforward: On the night of her 36th birthday party, Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) is struck by a car and killed while looking for her cat. She “resets” hours earlier, at the party, in her friend’s restroom. Nadia proceeds to die over and over again, sometimes making it through the night (but often not) and always resetting in the same place at the same time. Nadia despairs of ever finding a way out of this time loop until she meets Alan (Charlie Barnett). Together, they race against time to try solve the mystery of what is happening and of how to make it stop.
As a person who is often more comfortable with trying to objectively analyze than subjectively feel (especially when there is a mystery to solve), Russian Doll is…not the easiest show for me to have an uncomplicated opinion on. For the most part, it works. Fantastically. The performances are amazing, especially Lyonne’s portrayal of Nadia. Nadia is an acerbic, cynical, drug-using, chain-smoking computer programmer and for this show’s eight episodes, it feels as if that’s who Lyonne really is. And Barnett’s Alan is the perfect complement to her, matching her wild self-destructiveness with a rigid, yet fragile personality that makes their onscreen dynamic impossible to stop watching. Further, Russian Doll is funny, smart, and hits all of the right emotional tones in the right places. In all of the ways that it’s a success, it’s a brilliant one.
I have two complaints about Russian Doll, though. The first is that it feels very short. The longest episode maxes out at 30 minutes, so this show is easy to binge watch. But I believe that it’s brevity is the direct cause of my second, more significant complaint and that’s that Russian Doll doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s a fantasy, so it doesn’t have to be completely logical and it does remain fairly internally consistent as far as the plot and rules of its world are concerned. But there are definitely times throughout the season where some things happen that seem more like convenient plot devices than sensible occurrences.
For the record, I definitely recommend Russian Doll. I enjoyed it a lot during its incredibly short season and I’m definitely looking forward to the next one (assuming there will be one, of course). My only caveat is that I believe that Russian Doll is likely to be enjoyed most when its viewed more through feelings, because its focus on personal and interpersonal growth is so engaging. Using a more critical eye to figure out the mystery of what the hell is going on (usually a fun pastime) could ruin the magic of this show. At least a little.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.