Full disclosure: I was incredibly hesitant to review this show in fear of just not getting it. The trailers definitely portrayed a very “mindscrew” view and other reviews I read marked it as a very thought-provoking show.
However, I was very pleasantly surprised upon watching that while it’s definitely thought-provoking and deep, it isn’t as impossible to follow or understand as I feared.
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett and Yul Vazquez, the Netflix show focuses on Nadia Vulvokov, who dies the night of her 36th birthday. Following her death, she wakes up at her party once more, beginning what is the first of many, many time loops and deaths. As the increasing number of loops begin affecting the world around her, Nadia has to figure out what caused the loops and how to end it.
The first episode does a great job establishing the characterization for most of the characters throughout the season, especially Nadia. Immediately, she’s shown to be an abrasive, somewhat mean character, but we also get to see her kinder side through her relationships to side character Maxine and her cat Oatmeal. The show follows Nadia for the first three episodes, dropping hints of her backstory with mentions of her mother, her ex-boyfriend John and her own “death-seeking” nature.
The plot starts off with a bang, or should I say, a crash. After Nadia is hit by a car, she reawakens in Maxine’s bathroom at her birthday party. Confused, she doesn’t remember what happened at first until her second death. As she realizes that she’s reliving the same night over and over again, she begins trying to figure out what’s going on. As she investigates what’s happening to her, she finds out that maybe it’s not just about her.
Spoilers from the third episode onwards ahead:
At the end of episode three, Nadia discovers that she’s not the only person going through the time loop, introducing the second main character of the series: Alan Zaveri, a sweet, but finicky control freak who is also trapped in the same death and reawakening time loop as Nadia. After some conflict, the two begin working together to figure out what’s happening to them while also discovering new things about themselves and the people around them.
The character development for all of the characters follows surprisingly naturally for a show where time is constantly reset. Despite Nadia’s issues, she’s a sympathetic character and her arc is very smooth as she develops. Throughout the season, all of the characters are given a chance to shine as we learn more information about them and how they fit into the puzzle the show gives us. Some characters seem to lose importance in the last few episodes of the season, but fade out naturally enough that you don’t immediately question their absence.
The show has some really great messages for viewers, along with a couple not-so-great ones. (Their portrayal of infidelity comes to mind.) It heavily focuses on the themes of death, mental health and dealing with our past in a very unique and compelling way. Despite the heavy focus, it doesn’t require being a philosophy major to understand the story or its meanings.
Be warned, however, that the show is very casual with drugs, smoking, heavy cursing and sexually explicit language. It is definitely not a show to watch with your family, to say the least. Later episodes, especially episode seven, also have some disturbing and unsettling imagery that might be harmful for some viewers.
Ultimately, “Russian Doll” is a very unique show with great character arcs, deep themes and a fascinating plot to keep it going. Its minimal cast nails their roles consistently, leaving audiences with a range of emotions by the time the end credits roll. As long as you are able to deal with the topics, it’s a great show to binge in a few hours.
Final Score: 4/5