There seems to be more to Russian Doll than its constant cycle of repetition.
This post for Russian Doll Season 1 contains spoilers.
Fans of Netflix’s hit show Orange Is The New Black may recognise Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll (2019, created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland), where she plays a 36-year-old software engineer named Nadia Vulvokov who is trapped in a time loop she can’t seem to get out of. Every time Nadia dies, she returns to her 36th birthday party at her best friend Maxine’s (Greta Lee) apartment.
The reason why Nadia is trapped in a time loop where she keeps dying and returning is because she needs to confront her own emotional issues in life. Likewise, Alan (Charlie Barnett)—a surprising addition who appears at the end of “A Warm Body” (S01E03)—who faces the same time loop problem as Nadia, has to confront his own emotional issues with his girlfriend as well.
I can’t say I liked Russian Doll, but perhaps I’m also not the right audience for a series that is so dense and has an acquired taste. Russian Doll incorporates elements of mental health and addiction in its core, but doesn’t outrightly explain it to audiences—one has to watch and absorb, in order to understand the symbolic connection that the series is trying to illustrate. I also wished I hadn’t watched the trailer for the series because it ruined the first two episodes for me—note that there are only eight episodes in total. One thing for sure though, I thoroughly enjoyed the song choice for Nadia’s time loop sequence, as Harry Nilsson’s Gotta Get Up is a song I’ll never get sick of hearing.
Literally all of the critics’ reviews for the series has without a doubt mentioned how Russian Doll was heavily influenced by Groundhog Day—a movie which I have yet to watch—but for me, this series reminded me more of the somewhat recent young adult book to movie adaption called Before I Fall, where the main protagonist wakes up every morning and is trapped in a time loop and in order to get out of it—SPOILER—she has to sacrifice her own life to prevent a schoolmate from killing herself. And after thinking more about Russian Doll, it also kind of reminds me of the hit television series The Good Place—because Nadia and Alan both seem to be trapped in some kind of hell that they can’t get out of.
What Russian Doll achieves in its finale episode “Ariadne” (S01E08) is showing audiences that having human connection with others is an important step for survival in life. As best written by Todd VanDerWerff from Vox:
“Life is a series of loops, after all, repetitions of patterns we become comfortable with. And the very best friends we can have are those who see those loops for what they are and take our hand to make us just a little bit better.”
If you’re a fan of Lyonne, then you’re in for a treat; but if you’re neither a fan of hers or a semi-convoluted story that doesn’t seem to give a resolution as to why the time loops were happening in the first place, then I suggest you give Russian Doll a miss.