Netflix has been popping out original after original all year – and I keep being convinced that they simply can’t be successful again – and I keep being proven wrong. Russian Doll was no exception. When I first started it I thought, okay – a show about a woman who keeps dying and coming back to life to relive the same day – she’ll work to crack the code – it’ll be “trippy,” a sci-fi mystery. But Russian Doll was so much more than that. It truly made me feel the full range of human emotions. I laughed, and cried, I was confused, sentimental, lonely, afraid, happy – all in the course of one eight-episode season, oftentimes all in the course of a single episode alone.
The show centers around two main characters, Nadia and Alan, who are essentially complete opposites in every way. In the end, though, these two people, people who you would never expect to have anything in common, end up being quite alike, and being exactly what each other needed. This is part of what makes the show so powerful – having these polar opposites going through the same thing universalizes the experience, making the point that every human in the world has tough times, and subsequently, that every human in the world can make it through – as long as we work together.
Russian Doll is the kind of show you can’t stop watching, the “okay, just one more,” and suddenly you’re six hours in on the couch, kind of show. I binged the whole thing in two days, then found myself listening to the theme song and researching the actors’ interviews and “things you may have missed” for two days after. The star of the show, Orange is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne, is also one of the writers, and in reading what she’s said about her image for the show (which she worked on for 7 years), I think she hit the nail on the head. To Lyonne, the show was meant to reflect on the “underlying brokenness of the human experience” that she feels is stigmatized and should be discussed more openly.
The premise of the repeating day is, of course, entertaining and captivating, but for Lyonne, it had a bigger purpose – it was an exaggerated version of what so many people feel on a daily basis. In her words: “You’re repeating the same behavior over and over again. It’s the same day over and over again, the only thing that’s changing is an impending sense of doom.” By the end of the show, though, she hopes that what she’s done with this narrative is allowed people to feel heard, and shown them that there is always a way to keep going. In her words: “What I want is for one person to feel a little less alone, and a little bit like they’re OK and it’s OK and you can keep showing up to fight another day.” For me, Lyonne absolutely achieved that mission.
Netflix described the genre of this show as “dark comedy.” I think this is absolutely true – Lyonne is able to deliver quick wit flawlessly in an incredibly dark scenario – but Russian Doll touches on so many more genres as well. It’s drama, it’s psychological thriller, it’s mystery, it’s science fiction, it’s a reflection on time, on the human experience. There’s something in there for every type of person to enjoy. Beyond that, as crazy as it sounds when discussing a show about alternate universes and repetitive resurrections, I believe every human being could relate to the characters in this show on some level, and be left better off for experiencing that connection. In the end, it delivers a unique combination of satisfaction with the story – all ends tied up – and new questions that keep you thinking – about the show itself, and about life and the world we live in. And if, somehow, still none of that piques your interest – I can promise you, at the very least, you’ll gain some pretty kick-ass one-liners from Lyonne’s character, Nadia.