For many years Netflix has desperately sought out a “kooky” dark comedy that is smarter than the sum of its parts and with “Russian Doll” the company has finally succeeded.
Created by the exceptionally talented duo of Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne, who also stars as the show’s main protagonist; Nadia Vulvokov, comes a tale of a thirty-something bachelorette who must relive the same day of her life on a loop. And the loop resets when she dies, which is often.
Each day begins with her staring into the same reflection, pondering her existence to the dulcet tones of Harry Nilsson, whilst her birthday party plays out in the background of the morbidly decorated toilet she is forced to reset her day in.
Once released from her latrine-birth she is forced to experience the same pleasantries and pointless party small talk from friends and well-wishers before stumbling in a drug and alcohol-fuelled haze out to the hazards of a dark New York environment, searching for her missing feline companion Oatmeal, before she ultimately meets her demise. And then she’s back in the toilet staring into that mirror again. Sometimes she manages to survive until the next day, sometimes a few hours and sometimes she fails to even exit the party alive.
But it isn’t until we’ve gorged on an ever-escalating menagerie of impressive fatalities (gas explosion, open beer cellar, accidental gunshots) that she meets Alan Zaveri and when they meet their usual demise at the same time and place, neither of which flinching and even seeming bored of the expectation, that the shows really begins to blossom and accelerate to greatness.
We learn that Nadia is not alone and Alan (played excellently by Charlie Barnett) experiences his own death loop, awakening too in a bathroom staring back at his reflection. But unlike Nadia who oozes self-confidence to the point of masculine parody, Alan listens to self-help audio books and instead of trying to locate Oatmeal, is trying to gain closure on his failed attempt at proposing to his girlfriend.
Over the course of eight all-too-brief episodes, we are treated to a show with endless layers like an onion that displays fabulous elements of self-parody, pathos, horror, addiction, existentialism, redemption, lust, hate and love. Whilst many might find the ending to be divisive, it allows you to form your own opinion about what is real and what is imagination. What is good, what is bad and what is merely self-preservation.
Russian Doll is the most unique high-quality show since the debut of “Mr Robot” and is arguably better for its perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. Something which the latter has forgotten over its many seasons. However, even though Poehler and Lyonne apparently pitched this as a three-season idea, I’m unsure whether a second season would be a good idea as it’s hard to envision where it would go next. There’s something satisfyingly redemptive about making a semi-biographical show this perfect and then riding off into the sunset with a Marlboro and Jack Daniels in hand.
Watch this if you liked “Groundhog Day”, “Catastrophe”, “Happy Death Day”