Die Another Day (Series Review: “Russian Doll”)


Gallows humor goes down neat like a shot of tequila with a cocaine chaser in this ultra black comedy about a foul-mouthed, hard drinking woman who keeps on dying in horrifying ways. Could it be her own Karma that’s causing this existential nightmare?

SnapShot Plot

If ever the word swagger could be attributed to an actor today – male or female – Natasha Lyonne’s name would top the list. Rising to prominence in her breakout performance as an incarcerated, semi-rehabilitated drug dealer in Orange is the New Black, she has perfected a smoky-voiced, tough gal persona the likes of which we haven’t seen since Mae West.

In her new series, Russian Doll(co-created with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland) Lyonne plays Nadia, a sarcastic and cynical New Yorker whose downtown, take no prisoners vibe has no time or patience for treacly sentimentality. On the occasion of her 36th birthday party, thrown by a motley crew of equally hard-partying friends, Nadia comes face-to-fender with a NYC taxi cab, dying ingloriously on the spot. In the next frame, against the insipid strains of Crimson & Clover (“… over and over”) she’s back at the party, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, bound to repeat the last scene over and over. With slight variations in the setup and cause of death, Nadia desperately sets out to investigate the nature of this strange phenomenon. On some deeper level, she theorizes it must have something to do with her late mother’s own life and death, and so she turns to Ruth Brenner, the New Age therapist who’s basically raised her (played with a fine salt & pepper edge by the legendary Elizabeth Ashley) to see if she can help Nadia to find some answers. Assuming she’s the only person in the world experiencing this bizarre version of Groundhog Day, Nadia is shocked to encounter another member of the ‘frequent dyers club’ on an elevator plunging to certain doom. Maybe together, she and this tightly wound, moralistic young man will figure it all out, or maybe they’re destined to forever be dying again and again, both together and alone. It’s a trippy and twisted ride, for sure.



Parting Shot

The title of Russian Doll springs from the Russian Nesting Dolls, formal name Matryoshka, which Nadia is seen to linger over on one of her visits to Ruth, which of course ends in a gruesome accident from which – you guessed it – Nadia ‘wakes up’ back at her birthday party. It’s an apt metaphor for the slight iterations in Nadia’s repetitive and tragic scenarios by which, layer by layer, she peels away at the veneer and the armor with which she has insulated herself from a life truly and vulnerably experienced. It’s a tour de force for Lyonne, with gutsy writing and performances to match, in an intriguing show that drills down deep against the character’s usual judgement. What lies beneath is – like Life itself – entirely what you make it.

Russian Doll is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHcKoAMGGvY

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