Russian Doll Review – Farris Al-Quqa

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we have seen a dramatic shift in the way TV shows are produced and released. Namely, as opposed to the more discontinuous, traditional style of releasing a new episode every week, full TV show seasons are now made available all at once, allowing viewers to binge watch whole seasons within a matter of days. In keeping with this new means of content delivery, “Russian Doll” embraces the growth of binge culture in television, as it tailors its storyline and production to create a more movie-like experience in the form of a television show.

“Russian Doll” follows a woman named Nadia who celebrates her 36th birthday at a party hosted by her friend Maxine in New York City. On that night, she is killed in a car accident, but instead of outright dying, she ends up reliving her 36th birthday from the beginning again. With this, she finds herself stuck in a loop where she repeatedly dies and is forced to relive her birthday party from the beginning. As she investigates this phenomenon, she meets a man named Alan who, like Nadia, is also stuck in a repeating death loop, except he continues to relive the day that his girlfriend of nine years breaks up with him. The two characters then work together to unravel this mysterious occurrence and to figure out how to escape their never-ending time loops.

While “Russian Doll’s” plot may sound very repetitious and hollow at the surface, the show deeply develops the background and personality of the main characters. Nadia is portrayed as a tough, cynical, and egotistical chain-smoker who lives largely in the moment and pushes away her problems, such as her guilt over her mother’s death. In contrast, Alan is portrayed as a caring, shy, and feeble man who struggles to get over his girlfriend Beatrice and the context behind their breakup. This foil between the two main characters creates a compelling duo that helps the story flow and makes the ending all the more satisfying. Supplementary characters like Mike and Horse also help keep the story dynamic and interesting by fleshing out their environment and creating complex relationships between the characters that help us learn more about Nadia and Alan’s true selves. Additionally, the ambiance and aesthetic from environments like Maxine’s apartment, paired with the show’s melancholic violin music and the repetition of the song “Gotta Get Out,” create an eerie mood that well suits the situation that the characters find themselves in. “Russian Doll” is not just a story about two characters who experience multiple deaths and find themselves stuck in a time loop, but rather, it is a story which explores underlying themes on friendship and on overcoming each other’s flaws.

Additionally, aided by Netflix’s ad-free viewing experience and the release of the entire first season in one day, “Russian Doll’s” overall structure very much felt like a long movie that was broken into eight individual episodes, which, funnily enough, I found to be very effective. While, in a sense, the storyline was made discrete by breaking it down into shorter episodes, the lengths of the episodes made the viewing experience feel less intimidating and less like a chore, and the plot’s overall continuity made for a very entertaining show to watch in one sitting.

Although binge watching TV shows has become more commonplace nowadays, personally, I’m not a big fan of binge watching shows. To me, binge watching a TV show is akin to scarfing down a meal as quickly as possible; you don’t have enough time to truly enjoy and appreciate its taste. I feel like it’s better to leave some time in between watching episodes of a TV show to allow you to really internalize and think through the meaning and the significance of the events in the story before continuing. However, “Russian Doll’s” premise and overall movie-like feel left me captivated, and I couldn’t help but binge watch the entire first season in a day. Its intriguing storyline, deep character development, nice mix of comedy and drama, and meticulous attention to detail keep you engrossed and leave you wanting to know what will happen next. I couldn’t recommend it enough.