Amy Poehler, Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland take an idiosyncratic look at existentialism and what it means to be a good person in their new comedy-drama Russian Doll.
When software engineer and recreational drug user Nadia Volvokov (Lyonne) leaves her birthday party early for a wild night with a stranger, the celebrations are cut short when she’s hit by a car and killed. To her surprise, she’s suddenly back at the same birthday party, staring into the same bathroom mirror, but alive. Things feel a little deja vu-y as she leaves again, this time looking for her lost cat, before she falls into the East River and drowns. Back in that bathroom again, still very much alive, the same thing keeps happening to her — suddenly dying before being inexplicably resurrected — and, like any normal person, she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
Though it’s heaps of fun, Russian Doll offers more than just an amusing premise with a gimmick. Woven into the satire, cliffhangers and often soap opera-esque dramatic turns is a genuine desire to figure out what life is about, and what we need to do to make the most of it. It asks the big questions while retaining its accessibility and avoiding becoming pretentious. It’s also somehow nothing at all like Groundhog Day or Happy Death Day, so don’t even bother comparing them.
The whimsy-filled first half of the season lives up to its intriguing trailer and takes its sweet time with the set-up, but nothing ever drags. It’s filled with laugh-out-loud gags, the deaths (which involve a gas explosion, freezing to death in the park, a faulty elevator, four falls down the stairs, and more) get more and more inventive, and it’s hard to watch Natasha Lyonne in anything without falling in love with her, whatever kind of character she’s playing. The second half, however, takes the story and the premise — including a big sci-fi element — to a whole other plane of existence. It’s simultaneously foreboding and optimistic, and wholly unique.