Netflix’s new addictive show Russian Doll takes a well-known premise and shakes it up with fresh ideas, witty writing and brilliant performances. Created by Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland and Natasha Lyonne, who stars in the leading role as Nadia, the show is already a hit with audiences. The series follows Nadia’s attempt to escape a time-loop that causes her to return to her 36th birthday party every time she dies. Although this reliving-the-same-day plot may remind you of films such as the classic Groundhog Day (1993) and more recent Happy Death Day(2017), Russian Doll uses this premise to explore the complex issues that cause Nadia to be stuck in this same cycle of self-destruction. The writing also acknowledges the absurdity of the plot, with Nadia making comments such as ‘It’s a long story involving multiple deaths’ nonchalantly.
The very first scene shows Nadia in the bathroom of her birthday party, looking at herself in the mirror as Harry Nilsson’s ‘Gotta Get Up’ starts playing. This soon becomes repeated regularly throughout the series as the point she returns to when she dies. Nadia’s profession as a video game designer influences her to investigate her situation as if there is something stopping her from moving to the next level. However, it soon turns into a self-reflective journey with Alan (Charlie Barnett) who is caught in the same loop. We see Nadia’s mother (played by Chloe Sevigny), in a flashback, smashing all the mirrors in her house to avoid seeing her reflection. Yet, as they are reset after their deaths to standing in front of the mirror, Nadia and Alan are forced to self-reflect in this weird existential crisis they are stuck in. Although they are almost complete opposites, they both end up addressing the deep-rooted issues they have and learn that they need to help each other out.
The show switches from dark humour to horror, some of Nadia’s deaths being comical, such as an inability to walk down stairs without dying, and some of them being somewhat traumatic, with Nadia reflecting ‘Jesus f***ing Christ, that’s dark’. Through Nadia’s investigation of her situation we see snapshots of different perspectives of New York: she helps a homeless man in one episode and stays in the homeless shelter, she goes to a Jewish Synagogue to check if the Jewish building of her party is haunted, and she goes to her drug dealer to check if there was anything different about the joint she smoked. The issue that is explored the most is Nadia and Alan’s mental health, with both hating the word ‘crazy’ being used to describe them. Both dislike therapy, but have issues that they need to resolve to move on in their lives. Russian Doll approaches this in exactly the right way, representing mental health in an educated and understanding manner. Nadia’s mother had mental health issues and killed herself when Nadia was young, with Ruth (Eliabeth Ashley), who works as a psychiatrist, bringing Nadia up in her place. When addressing the issues that Nadia has, Ruth says: ‘I look at you now, chasing down death at every corner, fighting your way to the light. Do you still have that in you?’ This is ultimately what Nadia has to work out to escape the loop that causes her to relive her 36th birthday party – the age that her mother never lived to.
Just as the title suggests, there are many layers to the show, and it is an entertaining rollercoaster to watch despite being confusing at times. With amazing performances from the cast, a great soundtrack, including Echocentrics and Ariel Pink, and creative mise en scène, it is no wonder that the show has been such a success.