The indefatigable Natasha Lyonne finds herself caught in a Groundhog Day-style time loop in this dazzling Netflix series
“I don’t believe in dictating the boundaries of a sentient being’s existence,” Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), Russian Doll’s supremely spikey anti-heroine, tells her friend Lizzy at her 36th birthday party, after Lizzy insists Nadia should keep her beloved cat Oatmeal locked inside her apartment to keep him safe from New York City’s mean streets. Ironically, Nadia’s boundaries are about to shrink to the size of the tiniest Matryoshka – not so much in space as in time – and she most definitely isn’t any safer for it. She’s about to die and come back to life over and over again, stuck in a Groundhog Day-style loop where she has to continually relive the same night. In other words, it’s her party and she’ll die even if she doesn’t want to.
Naturally, she starts to question her sanity and, as a crack game programmer, eventually suspects a bug in the code. But to its considerable credit, Russian Doll is less concerned with the what and how of her predicament and more with the who and why. As a result, what starts out as a brilliantly bleak existential black comedy becomes a heady examination of mental illness, deep-seated trauma, and what we owe to one another as beings in a shared universe (of both the “normal” and decaying time-loop varieties).
Co-created by Amy Poehler, Leslye Headland and Lyonne herself (who also wrote several episodes and directed the finale), Russian Doll was reportedly inspired by the actor’s time as an addict, when days blurred together and life felt like a continual waking death. But that belies the joie de vivre found in nearly every meticulously composed, lit, scored, and shot frame in this dazzling Netflix series, as well as the inimitable performance of its deliriously original star. She may not be playing much against type, but that type consists solely of “Natasha Lyonne”. [Michelle Devereaux]