On 2 February, 2019, Russian Doll wrapped its first season on Netflix leaving a creative chasm behind that is still healing.
Emmy awards were lavished upon this deviously layered identity crisis comedy drama, but the series was always about more than that. In the interim period, only Damon Lindelof’s HBO reinvention of political superhero polemic Watchmen has matched it for sheer invention.
Thankfully the wait is over as a second season drops on 20 April, allowing audiences to get reacquainted with Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia, before tipping head long into her latest time loop trauma.
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Created by Amy Poehler, Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland this is landmark stuff. Featuring a charismatic turn from the ever-present Lyonne, it follows the life of Nadia, a native New Yorker.
Watch the trailer for Russian Doll S2
A closet intellectual with chic bohemian baggage, who revels in Jewish ancestry whilst bemoaning her lot in life. Sporting a cast iron constitution, relationship issues and some serious smoking habits, Nadia is the linchpin of a show that should be on every screenwriting syllabus.
Embracing Groundhog Day comparisons before disappearing down its own existential rabbit hole, Russian Doll is an intellectual hot mess of theological conundrums, which gets boiled down to a series of moral choices.
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Over the course of that first run Nadia relives an endless birthday party, which raises a ream of questions around her existence. Verbal and visual clues are scattered everywhere, while soundtrack choices also colour the narrative of this perpetual set of Penrose steps.
With a co-pilot in Charlie Barnett’s Alan, Nadia manages to survive her own demise numerous times, learning something new on her way to every epiphany. A fact which keeps the show fresh right up until its final frame, even if audiences might require diagrams to circumnavigate their way around those plot twists. A skill which should come in handy for this second season, as things go pear shaped pretty quick, before re-assembling into a cat’s cradle.
In a show defined by time travel conundrums and gender fluid plot twists, any hints hereafter would rob audiences of something special. What can said, is that Alan and Nadia are back in the saddle living their best lives.
Who they are in each one, where they might be on each occasion, and how that changes this story might be the better questions to ask. With Nadia approaching forty, Alan back on the blind dating scene and neither one feeling content in their own time, it seems only logical to mix things up a little.
Embracing the matter of a lost inheritance, ample amounts of gold bullion and some serious out of body experiences, this show goes full on animal crackers. With mental institutions, time period cross overs and family secrets aplenty people need to pay attention.
With solid support from Sharlto Copley’s Chez, Elizabeth Ashley’s Ruth and Greta Lee’s Maxine, Russian Doll feels like some kind of visual pinball. There are so many overlapping segues and intellectual references that people are best just letting it soak in.
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As history starts to infiltrate Nadia’s reality and Alan goes deeper into his past, events take on a more serious tone. Russian Doll delves into the darkest part of world history, where one man took it upon himself to eradicate millions of people, under the guise of a genetic cull.
This is a bold move which seeks to take Nadia and company into uncharted waters, as they mine their respective pasts for emotional closure. A move which uncovers some old atrocities, whilst attempting to return them to some semblance of normality.
However, what keeps this show on the rails regardless is Natasha Lyonne, who just rolls with those punches. Having been hit by taxis and killed off relentlessly in season one, she is unfazed by anything.
From seedy bars with a single platform dancer to expansive warehouse locations in far flung Budapest, she remains savvy and undaunted. Whether dealing with an endless array of assaults on her senses, or careening down the street after South African gold bullion Nadia grounds everything.
To say that season two expands on the outlandish premise which made Russian Doll such a revelation is pointless. In many ways it feels like an education in story construction, as well as a masterclass in character creation, with some theology thrown in for good measure.
Not only matching HBO’s Watchmen for creative invention, but proving that there is still room for indie levels of risk within the framework of mainstream entertainment.
Put aside a weekend and watch this in one sitting, because everyone will be talking about it soon.
Russian Doll S2 hits Netflix on 20 April.