Russian Doll is full of hidden riches. I don’t mean that in an Easter-egg sort of way or even a Bandersnatch, choose-your-own-adventure manner. Yet to describe this Netflix series starring Natasha Lyonne is at once an extremely easy yet impossibly difficult task. It’s a tightly-constructed show that’s sweeping in its scope. It’s a brash and unapologetic monster with a believable soft side, and it’s one of the most compelling original series to debut in awhile. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see it land on some year-end lists, but given the sheer volume of TV we’ll see this year, yup, too soon to call. One thing is certain — this is the overdue showcase for Lyonne that anyone who digs her and is familiar with her troubled personal history hoped for but never saw coming.
Even more impressive, Lyonne not only stars but co-created (and co-executive produced and wrote) alongside Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland (Sleeping With Other People). OITNB‘s Nicky Nichols is pretty close to doing it all, man.
Russian Doll benefits from a Groundhog Day-esque framing device, and the protagonist, Lyonne’s Nadia, gets trapped in a loop where she dies, over and over again, and wakes up unharmed. That architecture succeeded in recent films like Happy Death Day and Edge of Tomorrow and will get viewers through the door. Yet once you’re inside — and I planned to watch half of the episodes at once but failed and binged the whole season — the series resembles a Russian nesting doll, as the title suggests. Peeling back each successive doll-within-a-doll (or perhaps rotten layer of the onion) reveals twisted treasures. The outer layers are cloaked with misanthropic humor (like our tough-to-crack Nadia), and from there, the series veers into drama, horror, mischief, and tragedy. It’s difficult to look away from the rapid-fire developments and tonal shifts, but you might be alright with that, as I was.
Netflix is playing this release close to its sleeve in terms of allowing critics to reveal details, and that works to the show’s benefit. So with that in mind, here’s a spoiler-free run-through for why this could be your next great binge.