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Does Russian Doll Season 2 Live Up To The Hype After A Great First Season? Here’s What The Critics Think

Natasha Lyonne as Nadia in Russian Doll.
(Image credit: Netflix)

If Season 1 of the hit Netflix series Russian Doll taught us anything, it’s that time is an illusion not to be trusted. However, possibly more frustrating than being caught in a time loop that’s determined to see you die on your birthday is the fact that it’s been over three years since the hilarious and trippy Natasha Lyonne drama premiered on the streaming service. Season 2 is (finally) returning to the Netflix schedule, and critics have had the opportunity to screen the new episodes ahead of their April 20 release. With Season 1 becoming one of Netflix’s best-reviewed shows, could the sophomore effort possibly live up to the hype? 

Natasha Lyonne returns to Russian Doll as one of the best characters on TV, Nadia Vulvokov, along with Charlie Barnett as Alan. Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson and Greta Lee are also amongst the returning cast (would it even be Russian Doll without Maxine yelling, “Sweet birthday baby!”?), with Schitt's Creek star Annie Murphy amongst the additions. In Season 2 Nadia and Alan will dive deeper into their pasts through an unexpected time portal, discovering a fate even worse than endless death, according to the official description. OK then! Let’s get to the reviews!

Marya E. Gates of The Playlist says the second season is equally as twisting as the first, but so much plot is forced into the seven half-hour episodes that the side characters get short-changed. The season needed more episodes, or longer episodes, to allow the series to breathe:

Too many threads are left unexplored to make this new season of Russian Doll as wholly satisfying as its dazzling debut. However, its exploration of how fruitless ‘what if’ thinking is and the importance of taking agency in your own life despite your generational baggage builds wonderfully on the themes explored in the first season. Despite its flaws, if Nadia and Alan grow a little with each reality-bending experience they share, I look forward to whatever surreal adventure awaits them in season three.

Saloni Gajjar of  AV Club grades Russian Doll’s sophomore season an A- for the way it uses Nadia and Alan’s complex ancestry and generational trauma to further develop the protagonists. The series suffers a little in how little the leading actors’ interact, but the cast as a whole shines — most of all Natasha Lyonne:

The ensemble is top-notch, with Lee stepping up as Maxine gets better material. Murphy is an incredible addition as well. But nothing beats Lyonne’s firecracker of a performance; it’s extremely precise yet irrevocably freeing. She finds new depths to Nadia’s pain and misery without ever losing her comic timing. It’s a delicate balance, and Lyonne crushes it.

Caroline Framke of Variety questions why creators Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland would even dare to go back into a series that ended so perfectly after Season 1, but she says that proves to be the whole point of the second season:

By the season’s end, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that this go around the time and space continuum is quite as focused as the first, nor that its ending is quite as viscerally rewarding — but that, it seems, is more deliberate than not. Nadia’s unraveling of her family’s history ends up echoing the way Russian Doll ends up ripping out its own stitches: chaotically, hungrily, curiously. In tracing her family’s lineage and trauma through the years, Nadia and the show both allow themselves to get messier than either might’ve thought possible after Season 1’s conclusion. And if the show was determined to go back to where it all began, it could’ve done a lot worse than making the messiness of revisiting established truths the entire point.

Meghan O’Keefe of Decider says Natasha Lyonne brings more of the character we loved the first time around, maybe to a fault. While Season 2 is still chaotic and unpredictable, it nods at its success by revisiting all of our favorite things about the first season, but sometimes to its own detriment:

Russian Doll Season 2 is good, but it’s not quite as great as Russian Doll Season 1. This new season gets messy with its wild narrative swings and lazy with its logic. But Russian Doll is still effective as a vehicle for its creator and leading lady, Natasha Lyonne. Again, if you like Lyonne’s whole vibe, you will adore Russian Doll Season 2! If you’re hoping for Russian Doll to pull a Fleabag and somehow transcend its already celebrated first season, you might be disappointed. Lyonne still dazzles us with her wild take on humanity, but the narrative this season is a bit more muddled. A bit more messy. The way life so often is.

Alex Maidy of JoBlo says this go-round is not quite as well-rounded as the first season but it’s still impressive in the way that it flips its Season 1 concept completely on its head: 

For anyone worried that the second season of Russian Doll would ruin the excellent first season, you can relax. Natasha Lyonne clearly understands the character of Nadia and takes this story very seriously. If the first season was a meticulously crafted timepiece that required every cog to work together, the second season is more like a vinyl record: it has bumps along the way but if you listen from beginning to end, you will experience a full and rewarding story.

The critics seem a little mixed on how well Season 2 stacked up to the impeccable first season, especially its highly-acclaimed finale. However, even if they don’t think it quite lives up to the original, they all seem to agree it’s worth watching with a Netflix subscription. That sentiment is backed up by its Rotten Tomatoes score, which, ahead of its release, has compiled a 100% Fresh rating from 16 critics. 

Season 2 will premiere Wednesday, April 20.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.