Life & Culture

Russian Doll television review: 'If you saw her in real life you’d be inclined to warily step out of her way.'

In this Netflix drama a young woman dies again and again


Russian Doll. Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov in episode 201 of Russian Doll. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Netflix | ★★★★★

When first I heard Netflix were going to make a second series of Russian Doll I was a bit confused. To be fair, I was a bit confused when watching the first series, although Natasha Lyonne, its scarlet co-creator, star, writer, and sometime director, did manage to miraculously tie up all the threads of the Groundhog Day story of a woman dying at her 36th birthday party over and over again. Not only that, she did it with such aplomb and emotional warmth, perfectly and singularly sealing off the entire enterprise like the matryoshka of the title, that any fan would surely be concerned with the possibility of the beauty of the original being destroyed by reopening it all up.

But like her character Nadia, when presented with a challenge Lyonne charges straight at it. And any implications or consequences that arise? She’ll charge straight at them as well. When first reappearing onscreen, for what one might assume to be a difficult second album, it initially takes some getting used to though, her gait. How to describe it? Stalking? Stomping? She aggressively flows down the streets of New York. Either way it’s somewhat unnerving. Like a still-inebriated survivor of an all-nighter desperate to get home, or a hobo late for a vital appointment, if you saw her in real life you’d be inclined to warily step out of her way.

Lyonne delivers her dialogue in the same manner, words aggressively flow from Nadia. I don’t know how the people she interacts with aren’t left punch drunk by them. But what magnificent lines they are, spat out like a film noir private dick, cigarette in mouth. “My lungs are two shrivelled up Nick Caves”; “Every time I get a compliment, a cockroach gets its wings.” Ouch. Any comedian would be proud to have them in their set.

Still, a warning. I’d forgotten how I almost stopped watching after the first episode of the first series because I found this characterisation so annoying and affected; only luckily persisting because of the relatively short moreish episodes to discover that it was very much deliberate and necessary to the plot.

So I shall have faith here, as this season’s story takes shape to not crack open, but instead seemingly envelope the original in its shell. On this ride the universe’s high-jinks take a Back to the Future turn, with Nadia time-travelling/body possessing the 1982 version of her mother, who’s pregnant with her —got it? — to uncover the mystery of her Auschwitz-surviving grandmother’s family fortune. There’s a lot of clever stuff going on, but after I make it to the end and have some time to reflect, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a commentary on inter-generational trauma. That would certainly fit the title, perhaps more so than the first series, as each body contains those all that came before. As to whether Lyonne can pull off the same trick again, I suspect like all great artists, instead she’ll pull off a new one.

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