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.

The OA Review – Farris Al-Quqa


In a time where streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer us thousands of shows and movies to watch at the tips of our fingers, it’s easy for some shows to get lost in the crowd, and with how frequently new shows release, it can be difficult to watch everything you want. Staying true to this, Netflix’s original show “The OA” remains largely overshadowed by similar mystery dramas like Stranger Things, but nonetheless, it brings to the table a unique take on the traditional science fiction mystery genre.

“The OA” is a supernatural mystery show that follows a blind girl named Prairie Johnson who went missing seven years ago but mysteriously reappears in her hometown, now with the ability to see and with a set of odd scars on her back. Referring to herself as “The OA” and refusing to explain to her adopted parents or the FBI what happened to her, Prairie gathers a group of five people, a high school teacher (Betty Broderick-Allen, or “BBA”) and four high school boys (Steve, French, Buck, and Jesse), and tells them her life story in an abandoned house. In her story, she explains how she was born to a Russian oligarch and had a near-death experience after a tragic school bus crash. Following the near-death experience, she lost her sight and had to move to the US with her aunts for safety. In the US, she learned that her father died in Russia, leaving her frustrated and in denial. After her aunt allowed her to be adopted by another family (Nancy and Abel Johnson), she ran off to New York, believing that she would meet her father there. Instead, she met a scientist named Hap who imprisoned her and studied her and four other people (Homer, Scott, Rachel, and Renata) who had near-death experiences. While imprisoned, these five people discover “the movements” that open a portal to a new dimension, and after Prairie escapes Hap’s island, Prairie teaches these movements to the group of five people she gathered in the abandoned house to rescue the other prisoners.

Unlike traditional storytelling in TV shows, “The OA” takes a unique approach to the development of its main plot, combining traditional aspects of storytelling in TV where the plot develops as different events unfold with oral storytelling akin to that of ancient times. Much of the plot is revealed when Prairie describes her life story to the five people she assembled in the abandoned house, and due to the unusual nature of her story, it creates a sense of doubt among the people she knows in the modern day that influences her future actions. Paired with its on-point acting, well-suited casting, and immaculately filmed scenes, this combination creates a greater sense of depth and complexity that leaves even the audience wondering whether her story is true. Throughout the season, each episode felt very carefully planned (though there are some issues that will be addressed later) and made great use of foreshadowing and allusion (particularly to “The Odyssey” with Homer and to Jesus with Scott’s death and resurrection) to progress the story and keep it exciting and thought-provoking. The environments, while sometimes appearing artificial (ex: the space Khatun was in), created an immersive atmosphere with a very ominous and melancholic tone (see the end of episode three or Prairie’s neighborhood) that made the story very captivating. These characteristics of “The OA” come together to create a very engaging and well put viewing experience that captures your interest and maintains it throughout the entirety of the season.

As detailed and enjoyable as the season was, however, it left behind some loose ends and questionable scenes that just made it feel, for the lack of a better word, hallow or out of line at times. For example, episode three depicts Prairie attempting to poison Hap with her homemade stew, only for him to have an allergic reaction to the tomato paste in the ingredients she used. While the scene leaves you at the edge of your seat, it seemed strange that this would be an issue in the first place for a man as cautious and sharp as Hap. If he knew about his allergy to tomato paste, why wasn’t he more careful when purchasing the ingredients for the stew in the first place, and how did he not have any reaction to the sleeping pills Prairie laced the stew with? Certain scenes, like the scenes with Steve and Angie in the computer lab or the scenes with French and his scholarship, didn’t have enough development and felt lacking overall. While it’s great that the writers tried to give these characters greater depth to help them connect with the audience and feel more realistic, these plotlines needed to be more fleshed out, as we never saw what happened to French after his scholarship dinner or what happened to Steve after he and Angie kissed in the computer lab. As of now, they felt rather pointless, though, perhaps, they may become more relevant in season 2. The ending, in particular, where a school shooter breaks into the school and the group of five that Prairie originally assembled performs the movements she taught them, felt very contrived and phoned in, as if the show writers had to find any excuse to end the season and create some sort of drama or suspense that loosely related to the plot. If school shootings weren’t as common as they have been recently in the US, then the scene may have felt more shocking or suspenseful, but with how increasingly common school shootings are becoming and how random and out of left field the scene was, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed and turned off.

As a person who barely watches TV shows anymore and would have never heard of “The OA” had it not been for my English class, I have to say that “The OA” was a great show. Although I have some grievances with the first season, particularly its ending, its overall attention to detail, fitting cast of characters, phenomenal filming and acting, ominous tone, and allusions to other works make it a very intriguing and captivating show which leaves you wanting more.

With season 2 right around the corner, I’m hopeful that “The OA” will continue to impress and improve upon the already fantastic season 1, and for those who are considering giving the show a try, I would highly recommend it.

The Man of the Crowd – Farris Al-Quqa

“’Er lasst sich nicht lesen’ – it does not permit itself to be read.”

Au contraire.

In a time where industrialization and urbanization was in full force in the United States, American society rapidly changed as people began to move from rural America to cities. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” explores this change from an unusual perspective, making for a rather interesting take on the world we live in.

“The Man of the Crowd” describes an unknown man in a coffee shop in London who observes the crowds of people walking by outside, categorizing these people into different types and investigating their collective and individual characteristics. Among these people, one man, in particular, described as “a decrepid old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age,” catches the narrator’s interest, as, unlike the rest of the crowd, the narrator could not easily classify this man. The narrator’s intrigue over the man’s unusual mannerisms and appearance persuades him to follow the old man and observe him in detail. Roaming throughout London and its many bazaars and shops, the old man leads the narrator on a chase spanning the entire night. By the next morning, the narrator, weary and exhausted, presents himself to the old man, only for the old man to not even notice him and continue along.

Throughout the story, Edgar Allan Poe highlights characteristics of the crowd that remain very relevant in American society today even as the world has become more interconnected – namely, the ideas of anonymity, isolation, and social class. As urban centers developed in the United States in the 1800s, people increasingly began to move from their tightly knit villages and groups where everybody knew each other to massive cities with millions of people in search of the “American Dream” and greater opportunities. With this shift, many people experienced a newfound sense of privacy and seclusion, as they left behind everybody they knew and entered an entirely new world. Independence and individuality, rather than collectivism and togetherness, were highly valued during this period and worked to stratify society. “The Man of the Crowd” explores these themes, highlighting how, even though the people were not physically lonely or isolated, they were still fairly separate and unknown, something that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the modern day even though we are more interconnected than ever with the Internet. The narrator’s categorization of the people into groups like the “upper clerks” and the “pick-pockets” further demonstrates how social stratification contributed to the level of individualism and isolation that permeated during this period. These underlying ideas give the narrator’s actions greater significance, making what seems like him watching and following people like a stalker become something more meaningful.

While, at first glance, “The Man of the Crowd” may seem like nothing more than a dull or pointless story, its unique perspective and well-paced storytelling make for a rather enjoyable read. Its relevancy to the modern day and its underlying themes on American society during the 1800s make it interesting for anybody remotely interested in US history or the social sciences.

For those who are unsure of whether they should read this or not, I would highly recommend it.