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“Russian Doll” is a darkly comic take on a classic structure

Slick production value and hilarious writing are a treat for any fan of dark comedy

Claude Brun, Staff Reporter
Originally published March 8, 2019


“Russian Doll” is a new eight episode dark comedy miniseries from Netflix that follows the classic structure of a main character, Nadia Vulvokov, stuck reliving the same day, destined to die and repeat it over and over until she can find the root of what’s gotten her in her current situation. While this structure was popularized decades ago by “Groundhog Day” and has since been copied countless times, Russian Doll manages to feel distinct and fresh due to its titular russian doll-like structure, with each episode unveiling something new as we near the core of the mystery at the center.

At eight episodes and just under four hours, “Russian Doll” is paced more like an extended movie—and an excellent one at that. A consistently high production value and excellent writing and dialogue back that up, making the show irresistible to binge.

Lead actress Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia Vulvokov immediately oozes charisma and humor with her spot on Brooklyn accent and upbeat devil-may-care demeanor. She acts and even says in the opening scene that she couldn’t care less if she dies. When she is forced to face her death over and over again, however, her tough girl attitude slowly comes tumbling down for the most part as she attempts to figure out what’s going on and escape this seemingly endless cycle of life and death that she has come to resent. Above the engaging story, the slick camerawork, and the fantastic score, it’s Lyonne’s constantly energetic and hilarious performance that will keeps the miniseries so entertaining.

The supporting cast of varied and interesting characters excellently supports Lyonne’s performance. Each new character Nadia encounters has a personality of their own, nobody feeling like a mere plot device.

The camera work and soundtrack have the same slick charm of most Netflix shows but “Russian Doll” stands out as one of the most stylish. The New York setting, often seen at night, is wonderfully shot and lit, often making eye catching use of neon colors that feel like their genuinely part of the environment, not just there to look cool. This creates a visual palette that is colorful yet dark at the same time, something that could also be used to describe the vibe of the show as a whole. The series lives up to its label as a dark comedy, often joking about death, drug addiction, and even mental health in ways that don’t feel disrespectful. Still, it’s a show that had me laughing about things that I normally wouldn’t feel comfortable laughing at, which is something that can be said about only the best dark comedies.

Much of the comedy is replaced with bleakness as the show comes to an end and grows increasingly bizarre and dream-like. The serious plot revelations that come in the last few episodes do a good job tearing down the wall that Nadia has built around her emotions, giving us insight into why she acts the way she does. However, while these scenes feel necessary to the story, they often left me missing the near constant laughter that defined my experience watching the earlier episodes.

This is a show with a message but not one that feels forced or even heavily implied until the final episode. As for the conclusion, it feels a little rushed, culminating in a final scene that doesn’t quite capture the emotional poignancy that the otherwise very well-written miniseries deserves. “Russian Doll’s” self contained structure is a blessing and a curse, as there won’t be another season to give the story the closure it deserves but the storytelling isn’t hampered by having to save mysteries to keep viewers coming back for later seasons, a problem that many Netflix shows suffer.

Despite its flaws, “Russian Doll” is easily one of the best miniseries Netflix has offered to date, and—with its relatively brief runtime—feels like a must watch for anybody with an appetite for dark comedy.

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“Russian Doll” is a darkly comic take on a classic structure