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This week has been full of news and previews coming out of TCA, but for those in need of something long-form to binge on before and after the Super Bowl, Netflix's Russian Doll appears to be the best bet possible. Releasing on Friday, February 1, Russian Doll has already become one of the most well-received original series in the streaming giant's library.
Having not gotten too far into it myself, I can definitely say that Russian Doll will catch viewers immediately with its dark Groundhog Day-esque tale and Natasha Lyonne's DGAF approach to life as New York City birthday girl Nadia Vulvokov. That's basically all one should know about the "plot," so to speak, going in, though it's definitely worth noting that co-stars and recurrers like Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley, Brendan Sexton III and others all bring their A-games...over and over again.
The new series is currently sitting at 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and at an 89 on Metacritic. For a broad but still detailed idea of Russian Doll's power, here's how Uproxx put it.
It’s a tightly-constructed show that’s sweeping in its scope. It’s a brash and unapologetic monster with a believable soft side, and it’s one of the most compelling original series to debut in awhile. . . . One thing is certain — this is the overdue showcase for Lyonne that anyone who digs her and is familiar with her troubled personal history hoped for but never saw coming.
Nearly every single praiseworthy claim made about Russian Doll has been framed around Orange is the New Black vet Natasha Lyonne. Not only for her excellent and layered performances throughout the eight episodes, but for being one of the co-creators alongside Amy Poehler and Bachelorette playwright and film director Leslye Headland.
The Atlantic for instance, gave the three creators much credit for not just settling for the easy storytelling tropes with Russian Doll.
Lyonne, Headland, and Poehler have a larger purpose in mind, one that elevates Russian Doll from being a simple dramedy about one woman’s wackiest night ever. As the series proceeds, it gets more ambitious and more complicated in a way that’s gratifying to watch. It’s still anchored, though, by its sense of place and time, and by the infinite possibilities that a night walking around New York City presents. Some of Nadia’s loops are stranger than others. But watching her repeat herself, watching her survive, is generally more thrilling than you might ever have imagined.
Each reset puts Nadia at a visually striking party and she quickly finds myriad branching paths to follow, sometimes trying to find answers for the existential crisis rebooting her existence. However, the answers are only as important as all of the other minor intricacies and character details that make each Russian Doll do-over ripe with the potential to do literally anything. And Nadia is a perfect vehicle for such a ride.
Rolling Stone points out that throughout any and all of the tonal shifts, Russian Doll doesn't try to shy away from anything it's showing audiences.
Much of Nadia’s predicament is hilariously absurd, but the show also never loses sight of the fact that she’s dying, again and again, often in front of people who care about her more than she’s comfortable admitting. That blend of tones, and the controlled mania of Lyonne’s brilliant performance, makes Russian Doll feel like something wholly new, even as it cops to its many influences.
Not to spoil anything here, but there are lots of elements in Nadia's life that speak to the way her life is playing out. It's not on the same level of Netflix's recent phenomenon in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, even if that relatively more traditional sci-fi series' easter eggs are more in line with Russian Doll's foreshadowing and reverse-foreshadowing.
With such a high-concept narrative driving things, viewers might be worried that this will be another case of a Netflix original taking one too many episodes to wrap things up. But that's not the case at all, as far as NPR is concerned.
Unlike many streaming shows, Russian Doll is only as long as it needs to be to tell its story. The eight half-hour episodes maintain their momentum, which is particularly tough in a story that, by its nature and its exploration of a certain kind of déjà vu, isn't precisely linear. The series bends and breathes, introducing other characters into Nadia's life (I don't even want to tell you who!), giving away more and more of her fundamentally New York kind of humanity, never wavering in its conviction that she is fascinating enough to carry this entire story.
The other big worry for a show like this is that all of the dominoes that have been set up end up falling off of the table, rather than creating a beautiful display. In THR's review, that concern gets addressed and reassuringly dismissed.
There's also a sad, introspective and raw side to her performance in the second half of the season, as Russian Doll veers toward tragedy and at times even horror. If the success of a high-concept premise like this is defined by how close it comes to sticking the ending/solution, Russian Doll is a near-total triumph.
And just in case anyone needs to hear Russian Doll get lauded in a way that speaks to the object of its title, Paste Magazine has us all covered.
Russian Doll, like the matryoshki that inspire the title, is a finely crafted piece of nested art whose payoff is not just the solid endgame doll embedded deep in the matryoshka’s heart, but all the fresh, often surprising, facets of the doll that are uncovered with each new twist on the way to that dark center.
So there you have it, streamers and dreamers. With comedy, drama, slight horror and whimsy around each and every filthy street corner, Russian Doll is going to be one of the big new shows to beat throughout 2019. Let us know in the comments what you thought about the show!
Russian Doll Season 1 is currently available to stream in full on Netflix, so don't wait around to see if you 'll be able to watch it after you die. You're not Nadia. Go watch Russian Doll, and then take note of everything else hitting Netflix's 2019 calendar, as well as all the other midseason TV shows on the way.