Sweet Birthday Baby: A Russian Doll review by Mark Meyer

When I started watching Russian Doll, I wasn’t quite sure if it was my bag. The “Groundhog Day/Christmas Every Day” trope is a story that has been told over and over again (which is kind of funny, given the cyclical nature of the narrative). I also have a very hit/miss relationship with Netflix’s original programming; sure, I loved Stranger Things and the Black Mirror reboot, but other titles like Bird Box and Bright lacked a certain depth that I crave in stories, and the Trailer Park Boys reboot is just bad at this point. That said, I’m glad I persevered, because Russian Doll has a lot of good things going for it.

First off is the story. Adding a second main character into the mix put fresh spin on the looping narrative. As soon as Alan said “It’s ok, I die all the time,” I started taking guesses at what lies outside of Nadia’s routine. I had to know “Do they die at the same time?” “Were they related in a past life?” “Do they have anything in common?” In the end, I was satisfied with the answers I got.

Speaking of the end, the show does a great job of building up to the climax in the final episode. Without spoiling anything, I think the final episode does a fantastic job leading up to the deli scene.

I also enjoyed the aesthetic. The New York Deli and Maxine’s chic high-rise apartment felt fresh, and held a certain mythical quality for a southern boy like myself; it was a glimpse into another world for me. There is enough eye candy, like the gemstone portal that is Maxine’s bathroom door, to keep the scenery from getting stale as we continuously find ourselves in the same spaces.

But I think what really makes the show phenomenal is the characters. The cast is diverse and inclusive, and every character is distinct. Watching Nadia and Alan contrast and butt heads as they work together was wildly entertaining. Nadia’s friends Maxine and Lizzy contrasted riffed well with each other, with Maxine being more boisterous and Lizzy more subdued. The enigmatic Horse, the zany but grounded Ruthie, and even the scummy professor Mike all got my attention. Just like the setting, the characters are deep enough to keep me interested as they return in subsequent loops.

Russian Doll is not without its faults. The episodes leading up to Alan introduction feel drawn out and repetitive. This may have been an artistic decision, to imbue the viewer with the same sense of confusion and repetitive frustration Nadia is experiencing, but I wish they sunk the hook a bit quicker. I also would have like more exposition into Alan’s past. We get some information in conversations, but no flashback scenes like we got with Nadia. I understand why this is left out, since his problems were grounded in the present day, but I still crave a bit more back story. I also found John, Nadia’s ex, to be a bit distracting; he seemed really critical to the plot at points, but gets left out of the climax. These things seem like nuts and bolts that could have been tightened for a better narrative.

To conclude, Russian Doll is quality programming: it may not wow you, but it is an excellent spin on an aging narrative. I think it would be a stellar choice next time you’re fiending for a netflix original.


P.S.: MFW our heroes are separated in the finale

#questusreviewus #505in5 #russiandoll