‘Russian Doll’ And ‘The Good Place’ Are Spiritual Cousins With A Powerful Message


Russian Doll and The Good Place are very different shows. It’s the tone, mostly. The Good Place is bright and fun, Russian Doll is dark and a little meaner. It’s also the style. Russian Doll is set in New York City, in all of its grime, with open sewer grates and teeny tiny kitchens and 3 a.m. stops at a bodega. The Good Place is set in a fictional afterlife paradise (or rather, something approximating that for evil purposes), with an idyllic downtown and bushy green trees and so very many colors. If Nadia from Russian Doll met anyone from The Good Place, she would roll her eyes, take a drag off of the cigarette dangling from her lips, and walk away.

There are also a bunch of similarities between the shows. Both are about flawed-but-charismatic trainwrecks (Nadia, Eleanor) who die unexpectedly at a young age and, through the power of many reboots and the assistance of an overly cautious high-strung man (Alan, Chidi), despite a higher power messing with them (unseen rascal universe-manipulator, assorted well-dressed demons), they try to correct the errors they made before their death, many of which can be sourced to a weird relationship with their troubled mothers (mentally unbalanced, selfish alcoholic). Also, both shows killed people with a falling air conditioner. That should be noted somewhere, by someone, so it will be, here, by me.


And so on. There are other small similarities if you want to dig deeper, which I’m sure someone somewhere will do or has already done. There’s even a behind-the-scenes similarity: Russian Doll is produced by Amy Poehler, who starred in Parks and Recreation, which was created by Michael Schur, who also created The Good Place. There are layers here. That’s what I’m getting at.

Most of these are coincidental, though, and not really the point. The real similarity between the shows is their message and their worldview. For all the differences in style and tone that I laid out in the first paragraph, Russian Doll and The Good Place are still related in a larger way. They might not be siblings, or even direct blood relatives, but at the very least they’re some sort of cousins. Spiritual second cousins, maybe. They see each other at the family reunion and some weddings.

It’s a philosophy thing, mostly. Russian Doll is most often compared to Groundhog Day for obvious reasons, but its message of “you make a connection with a person and teach each other a better way to live” is very much a Good Place message, too. They’re both a little sad — Nadia dying in front of Ruth, Eleanor and Chidi losing their relationship to try to save the afterlife — and profound and relentlessly optimistic. They both give their characters moments of almost pure victory, Russian Doll in its moving finale and The Good Place in scattered bits dropped between new disasters, which need to keep occurring because the show has not reached a logical stopping point yet.