Writing about Russian Doll, Netflix’s surreal, existential, addictive, simultaneously witty and devastating and slightly ridiculous new show, is a bit of a difficult task, because so much of what makes the show great is not knowing what’s going to be thrown at you next.
What we can tell you, though, is that it’s without question worth a watch, and while Netflix has served up some weird and wonderful offerings in the past, they’ve never delivered anything quite like this before.
If you’re feeling unsure about it, here’s what’s in store should you wish to tune in...
A very unique premise
In the first scene we’re introduced to Nadia, who’s having a quiet moment to herself in the bathroom at her 36th birthday party. Until there’s a knock at the door, and she’s disturbed.
Nadia leaves the bathroom and we see her enjoying her night, hanging with friends, eventually leaving on the arm of a rather obnoxious “you’ll do for tonight”-type gentleman.
There’s a hovering feeling that something isn’t quite right, though, and at the end of her night she’s knocked down by a taxi and killed.
End of story, right? Well… not quite.
At the moment of her death, Nadia is taken right back to that same spot in the bathroom at her birthday party. Same night. Same disturbance at the door. Same song playing in the background.
She tries to go about her night as if nothing happened, but unfortunately, we quickly learn that death is waiting for her around every corner in a series of unique and unfortunate forms. And each time, Nadia is transported back to that same point in her night, staring at herself in the bathroom mirror at her birthday party.
It’s then up to her to find out exactly what is going on and how she can break the cycle, which starts off as a stressful process – for both Nadia and us as viewers – but she takes a leap forward in her quest when she stumbles across someone who’s somehow found himself in the same position. And from there, things get really interesting...
A truly impressive cast and crew
As well as starring in the lead role of Nadia, Natasha Lyonne co-created and co-wrote Russian Doll, so fans of her portrayal as the street-smart, wise-cracking Nicky in Orange Is The New Black are in for a treat.
What’s more, Amy Poehler – star of Parks And Recreation and executive producer of Broad City and Difficult People – is also one of Russian Doll’s co-creators, alongside Leslye Headland, who co-wrote and directed the 2012 film Bachelorette.
We’re pleased to say that Russian Doll has elements of what made all of this trio’s past projects a success, while also standing on its own two feet.
On top of that, there’s an exciting array of impressive new talent among the cast members, alongside Chloe Sevigny (who makes a late-in-the-day appearance in a brilliant role we won’t spoil for you), veteran star Elizabeth Ashley and Orange Is The New Black’s Dasa Polanco.
An intriguing show that crosses genres
Part of what makes Russian Doll so unique is the fact it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what type of show it is. There are elements of comedy for sure, but there are also stressful, tense and downright anxiety-inducing moments, too. On the other hand, there are also enough laughs that it would be doing the writing of Russian Doll a disservice to label it a pure drama.
Throw in a bit of fantasy, sci-fi and even horror in its darker moments (of which there are a fair few), and it’s difficult to know exactly how to label Russian Doll.
While there are obvious comparisons to be made with Groundhog Day, it also put us in mind of time-bending films like Interstellar, or even Netflix’s recent interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch.
Although a lot of the action takes place within the confines of Nadia’s birthday party, and the various apartments of people in her life, we do get to see a fair bit of New York, which is always nice when you’re binging on something from the safety of your bedroom.
But this isn’t the glossy New York portrayed in Sex And The City or hinted at in on the sound stages of Friends or Will And Grace. Russian Doll shows a much grittier but also more modern New York, with the central party being held in a converted yeshiva in Alphabet City, and key scenes taking place in video game offices, homeless shelters and, frequently, a local deli.
Sidenote: We should point out it’s a *bit* of a slow burner
The only thing we will say is that by the beginning of episode 3, you’ve walked through the same night with Nadia on multiple occasions, and where it looks like there’s no end in sight, it can begin to get a little repetitive.
Even though throwing in the towel might be a little tempting, things took such an upwards turn shortly, you really should stick with it.
...but each episode is less than half an hour long
In all honesty, we sped through the whole thing in a weekend. Once we arrived at the first huge twist of the series, which takes place in a lift, we were properly, properly hooked, and by that point you’ll just want to watch more and more.
While Netflix shows have often been guilty of overwhelming us with 45-minute or even hour-long episodes, Russian Doll is able to hold our attention with its shorter instalments (which makes binging it feel like much less of a slog)
There’s a satisfying ending, too
Again, we’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but so often with shows that have mysterious or surreal element, there is a lot left open at the end. We imagine the ending of Russian Doll might be a divisive one, but it’s a conclusive ending all the same.
And there are plenty of subtle details to keep an eye out for
As more and more of the story unravels, you begin to notice hidden details and easter eggs, as well as callbacks to earlier scenes and conversations between the characters. Basically, by the time we get to the conclusion of episode 10, we wanted to start the whole thing over again – and again! – to see what we missed the first time around.
In that respect it’s a bit like Black Mirror or Lost, where the more attention you pay, the more you’re rewarded later down the line (although unlike Lost, we weren’t left cringing at the last episode).
Russian Doll is now streaming on Netflix.