Tv Review: Russian Doll Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2

currently airing

Natasha Lyonne’s someone I’ve liked for quite a while, mainly because after her initial burst of fame as a child actor and then a second time in the sun thanks to the American Pie movies she struggled for a fair while, but then managed to overcome her problems and I’ve always been fond of a comeback kid. Orange Is The New Black showed just how strong an actor she’s become over the years, far better than any of the others from those pesky Pie films, and Antibirth and appearances in Portlandia and Ballmastrz 9009 demonstrated that her comedic chops were as sharp as ever, hell she’s even great in Show Dogs and despite my fondness for that terrible movie not many come out of it looking good.

Now she’s co-created her own Netflix show which she devised with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland (best known for being a staff writer on the much missed Terriers). Sold as a variation on the much loved nineties romcom Groundhog Day it sees Lyonne take on the role of Nadia who’s attending her birthday party held at a swanky apartment in New York. Nadia’s a cynical type who’s not exactly overjoyed that she’s turned 36 and worries she’s having a mid-life crisis, or perhaps the menopause, but rather than explore such feelings she hooks up with a guy instead. After sex she kicks him out but after nipping out for some cigarettes she gets distracted when she sees her missing cat, Oatmeal, and ends up being hit by a taxi. But rather than being carted off to the morgue she wakes up back at the party and is somewhat confused as to what’s happening.

Second time around she wonders around in something of a dazed state, aware of some of her previous memories, and believes it’s a strange kind of deja vu. But instead of hooking up with the guy as she did before she stays at the party, meeting her ex-boyfriend John (Yul Vazquez) and tries to explain to him what’s happened, before putting it down to taking a toke on a joint laced with cocaine. Later she and John go looking for Oatmeal and she almost gets hit by a taxi again, but John saves her just in time. The end. Fine, fine, she just ends up dying in a different way and then is back at the party once again in full on rant mode, which is fair enough as if I kept dying and then coming back to life I would be more than a little bit frustrated.

The second episode is a similar affair but that’s not to it’s detriment in any way, this is a show which by it’s nature is doomed to repeat itself, but they have a lot of fun playing around with events. The best of which sees Nadia repeatedly trying to leave the party early only to fall down the stairs and die each and every time, as for some unknown reason the universe doesn’t want to allow her to get out quite so quickly. It may seem dark but brutal deaths often are the best thing about this sort of thing and I didn’t tire of seeing poor old Nadia meet her demise only to wake up again at the party, especially as it was often so unexpected and unpredictable. There was also some great scenes as she tried to discover what was going on by visiting her drug dealer, interact with her therapist friend, and party like crazy knowing there wouldn’t be any ramifications for doing a fuck loads of drugs.

The Groundhog Day concept (or to give him his due, the “12:01 PM” concept as it was Richard A. Lupoff’s short story which inspired that film in the first place) has been used a lot of late from movies like Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day to tv shows including The Vampire Diaries and (bizarrely) The Mindy Project, and it’s understandable why, it’s a great idea and a lot of enjoyment can be had from watching the initial confusion where the central character wonders what the hell is going on to then trying to change their lives so that it stops bloody happening. Lyonne, Poehler and Headland haven’t screwed it up either, not only is the lead character an extremely appealing and amusing one but the setting is strong as it allows us to meet all of the important people in Nadia’s life and interact with them in different ways.

As with most time loop tv shows or films it wouldn’t work without a fantastic performance from it’s lead and Lyonne has never been better as the jaded but sassy Nadia, it’s a stellar bit of acting as she goes from unhappy go lucky to confused and then in to meltdown mode as she freaks out upon her second return from the dead, in what is a beautiful bit of physical and verbal comedy. Seeing her try to solve the mystery has been involving, and watching her in a hedonistic state led to lots of laughter too, the morning after especially so. The supporting cast haven’t had as much to do so far but all seem pretty great as well, and I’m sure as the series develops we’ll learn a lot more about them, and everyone involved benefits from the smart, savvy script. Sure, all of the characters are witty and overtly opinionated but hell, it’s New York and her friends are pretentious types so it’s believable stuff.

I have a tendency to get a tad overexcited by great first episodes it has to be said, but the second was even better which means I’m optimistic that I won’t be disappointed. Of course it’s possible it could still all go wrong and whether or not the show will continue to make great use of it’s concept remains to be seen, but the mysteries it’s set up (Why does Nadia keep being thrown back in time? Why does Oatmeal keep disappearing? Who is that strange homeless guy that Nadia is convinced she knows? And why did the flowers wilt as she walked past them?) are intriguing, and given the quality of the cast and the scripts I’ve high hopes this will be a engaging and enchanting ride. Either way I’ll be back in a few days to review the final episode, but in the meantime this definitely currently looks like it’ll be a great show,  one which is not only very funny but fascinating too.

Alex Finch.

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