I try to focus on reviewing entertainment created by or starring women, and I don’t think there is a better example of poignant storytelling, intelligent dialogue, and biting humor than RUSSIAN DOLL. The show is equal parts HAPPY DEATH DAY for the underlying plot points and humor, BLACK MIRROR for its morality and supernatural elements, and FLEABAG for its character study of a young, at times unlikable, woman as she attempts to define herself and relationships while living in the big city. I know I’m not the first and won’t be the last to tell you RUSSIAN DOLL is great television, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when it makes the award circuit rounds and critic lists as one of the best shows of the year.
Honestly, there is a lot of hype surrounding RUSSIAN DOLL, and I don’t want that to affect your perception of the show. Having just rewatched HAPPY DEATH DAY in anticipation of its sequel, I was at first wondering if the idea of a woman restarting the same day after dying over and over would be too familiar. But thanks to many surprising twists and turns, it didn’t take long (the end of episode three to be exact) for me to be hooked.
Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) is begrudgingly celebrating her 36th birthday with her best friends in New York City; she’s always had a bad feeling about this specific day and is holding her breath to see what is in store for her. Buckle up! As the drugs and drinks flow, Nadia becomes more concerned that she hasn’t seen her beloved cat Oatmeal in days and sets off to find him. When she finally sees him across the street in the park, she carelessly runs into the street and is hit by a car. Cue Harry Nilsson’s song “Gotta Get Up”—our “It’s A Small World”-esque theme song for the rest of the show—as Nadia continues dying over and over, yet coming back to life each time on the night of her birthday. Now she needs to find a way to stop dying and, more importantly, stop the loop.
I could talk about RUSSIAN DOLL’s innovative writing, fantastic performances, and :ahem: catchy songs for days. But I think what really makes this show standout is that it is an obvious passion project for Natasha Lyonne. Not only is she the heart and soul of the show, but she gives a career-best performance, embodying her character Nadia so perfectly it’s hard to tell where Nadia ends and Lyonne begins. Lyonne’s Nadia is a female character that we don’t get to see onscreen as much as we should. She is the opposite of a manic pixie dream girl, the go-to female archetype that is wide-eyed, energetic, and quirky. Nadia is instead unapologetically reckless, caustic, and brash… not the type of protagonist Hollywood is typically clamoring to showcase.
But throughout her career, Lyonne has excelled in taking on these challenging roles, daring audiences not to root for her multilayered characters. One who calls out BS when she sees it, but is hiding her own vulnerabilities just under the surface. It was almost as if Lyonne was born to play this role…and maybe she was since she was instrumental in creating the show with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland; she even wrote and directed the final episode.
Binge-watchers will be pleased to know that RUSSIAN DOLL works best as a 4-hour mini-series that you should try to watch in one sitting. Watching this show reminded me of how I felt watching LOST, always looking for little clues and running to the internet after episodes to read dissections of the plot points/spout my own theories on social media. Luckily, it seems Lyonne and co. have already written in a potential second season with that interesting final scene. I would honestly be fine with this remaining a one-season wonder, but if it means more imaginative and intelligent content, as well as more Natasha Lyonne on my screen… I’m here for it.
My Review: A-