Netflix Review: Russian Doll

Natasha Lyonne in “Russian doll.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.

When I first saw “Russian Doll” pop up on Netflix, I was intrigued. After watching the trailer, I thought that it was going to be another “Groundhog Day”-esque reboot, where someone dies over and over and keeps waking up in the same day.

The show is produced by Amy Poehler and stars Natasha Lyonne, who some may recognize from the hit show Orange is The New Black, as Nadia. After binge-watching the whole show in a day, here’s the general premise: Nadia is celebrating her 36th birthday, dies, and then mysteriously wakes up, alive, on the same day. This process is repeated again and again. Over the course of the show, she discovers she’s not the only person this is happening to and she may need to relinquish dark parts of her past to break the chain.

Honestly, it was difficult to get hooked in the first two episodes, as most of the plot was Nadia dying, waking up in a bathroom, then dying again. But then the show began to slowly unravel – bringing in characters from Nadia’s part, present and possible future that not only shaped her character but the show’s motifs.

The show addressed subjects that could be perceived as really cliche, and made them interesting and complex without losing their appeal. For example, there is a lot of fixing relationships and addressing skeletons in her closet in order to fix the time loop, but the show introduces them in different ways using them to weave the plot together.

Oftentimes in cinematic plot, this kind of do-better to get better kind of storyline can be old and kill the mood of what could be an otherwise decent film or show, but “Russian Doll” does with subtly and builds the suspense throughout.

It’s fascinating to watch Nadia piece together the reason behind why she’s stuck in a time vortex, and even more fascinating to watch her become someone she probably wouldn’t have been otherwise.

At times, the show is really funny, although the humor is dark and cynical, but is balanced by bittersweet moments between Nadia and the other characters. The camera work is done well, which can at times make or break a show’s watchability. The aesthetic is generally pleasing, being largely real color and motions, but there is a sort of colorful ethereal quality to many episodes that lends to the alien quality a plot about dying and regenerating over and over again can give.

The music in the show is very limited, but is done well when used. The same song plays in Nadia’s reboots – signaling her dying and starting over – and to signal momentous plot points.

In general, the show is well balanced. With each episode being around 30 minutes, the plot moves quickly without seeming rushed, and remains complicated without being draggy. This is a hard balance to find, but Amy Poehler found it. Did we really think she wouldn’t, with shows as successful as “Parks and Rec”?

Russian Doll could have been cliche, boring and overdone, but the great acting, emotional pulls and balanced qualities of its production made it shine. I recommend watching it, even if it is to just satisfy the hype you see on Twitter – I know I did.

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