Watch Netflix’s ‘Russian Doll’ for the characters, not the comedy

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Netflix’s ‘Russian Doll’ follows Nadia, played by Natasha Lyonne, who dies again and again and always finds herself back in the bathroom of her friend’s apartment on the night of her own 36th birthday party. (screenshot/Netflix)

Netflix’s ‘Russian Doll’ follows Nadia, played by Natasha Lyonne, who dies again and again and always finds herself back in the bathroom of her friend’s apartment on the night of her own 36th birthday party. (screenshot/Netflix)

You know how when you open a Russian nesting doll, you find another doll? And then another and another? That’s basically the principle Netflix’s new series “Russian Doll” operates on. The main character, Nadia, dies again and again and always finds herself back in the bathroom of her friend’s apartment on the night of her own 36th birthday party.

This premise is that Nadia must find a way to stop her deaths and revivals and simply live. Additionally, Nadia becomes a likeable character the more viewers see of her, and Natasha Lyonne’s portrayal of Nadia is both funny and sympathetic.

Since “Russian Doll” is billed a dark comedy, it’s no surprise that some of its humorous moments are Nadia’s frequent deaths and revivals. For example, in the second episode, Nadia tries to walk down a stairwell several times without falling down the stairs or falling over the banister. Each time, she becomes more cautious, gripping the railing and telling other people to make way for her, but she still perishes. The background song during this sequence, Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up,” adds to the scene’s amusing nature, as it foreshadows Nadia’s return to her friend’s bathroom the night of her party.

One criticism I had of “Russian Doll” was that the series started off very slowly. The first episode set the scene and showed Nadia’s problem, but the second episode was very similar. I know that the whole point of the show is that Nadia keeps dying and being revived, but it was very repetitive. In the first two episodes, Nadia didn’t seem to have any control over what was happening to her, and the only step she took to try to understand her problem didn’t even help her.

Although I didn’t find the first episodes to be very interesting, I did find myself starting to feel bad for Nadia. As I saw her try and fail again and again to figure out what was going on, I began to sympathize with her and feel for her when she called herself crazy. Similarly, I began to feel for her new friend Alan who also keeps dying and being revived. Instead of dying around the time of Nadia’s birthday party, though, Alan (played by Charlie Barnett) dies the day that he proposes to his girlfriend and she turns him down. Not to mention, his girlfriend was also cheating on him, so that was another reason I felt bad for Alan.

On a deeper level, the show has some messages about living a better life. In order to break the sequence of dying and being revived, Nadia and Alan have to confront their own troubles and then must help the other. Essentially, “Russian Doll” suggests that solving your underlying problems allows you to move on in life, live more happily and help others. Some reviewers have suggested that Nadia’s predicament might be a symbol for mental illness or addiction, but her and Alan’s story can have many varied interpretations.

Overall, I didn’t find the show as funny as others have, but I did like the message about helping yourself and helping others. Furthermore, Nadia and Alan are definitely likeable enough characters to justify finishing the short series of eight 30-ish minute episodes.

Rating: 3/5


Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.   

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