Netflix continues its march of original content dominance with its release of Russian Doll, a series co-created and starring Natasha Lyonne, who is most notable for her work on Orange Is the New Black. It’s at this juncture that your mind needs to go ahead and form a snap judgement on whether or not you’ll read further or even give this show your time because the enjoyment of this show is predicated on two things; your tolerance of Natasha Lyonne and your ability to identify potential despite a mildly interesting result.
Lyonne stars as Nadia, a self-centered software engineer that after being hit and killed by a car is forced to relive the same night over and over again. Things begin to twist even further away from reality as she attempts to discover the how and why of her situation and specifically how to prevent it from happening again. The plot is heightened by the emergence of Alan (Charlie Barnett), another person experiencing the very same symptoms as Nadia, albeit for very different reasons. The duo teams up to solve each other’s shared dilemma in hopes of righting the world they are forced to exist within as well as undergo introspection on personality issues that might be root of the problem.
Disappointingly, the premise of Russian Doll is never the issue. The story, having manifested in entertainment in many forms in the past, still finds a way to be semi-interesting as the episodes progress, however, ultimately succumbs to simply generating a lazy and uninteresting point of view that has many capable components but falters in its delivery.
The best example of this is with Nadia as the main character. Lyonne is an acquired taste. While she probably best fits within an ensemble rather than being the lead, she is forced to shoulder much of the emotional weight of the show and appeared incapable of the responsibility. It simply became difficult to find a reason to care about Nadia or her problems thus resulting in a lack of emotional investment towards not only her character but the entire show.
It isn’t until Alan’s introduction, that Russian Doll begins to take on some form of life. Sadly, the show’s oscillation between Alan and Nadia’s stories, prevents it from finding any sure emotional footing that would aid in progressing the plot forward to a substantial place. It isn’t until the last two episodes that Russian Doll begins to explore just how the duo can begin repairing each other in order to save one another and even then, the resolution feels half-baked and unfinished as if the true meaning is left to the viewer to discover and yet the desire to do so couldn’t have been further removed.
Ultimately, the most frustrating aspect of Russian Doll is that it does have many strong components that could’ve assisted in it becoming a better experience. The supporting cast is wonderful and when further explored prove to be more interesting in comparison to the main characters. Some cast are given more of a voice as the series progresses but it is painfully apparent they are in many ways more fascinating than the principle players and the opportunity to go deeper was sorely missed. The soundtrack, created by Joe Wong, is utilized as a powerful tool throughout the show by wonderfully establishing mood or setting amidst a scene, which is its main purpose of course, but managed to continually pull focus away from the characters.
It’s because of these aforementioned strengths that make it greatly disappointing. It had potential to be something way more appealing and substantial than its end product. While this opinion will more than likely be among the minority it is hard to look past the series’ emitting wasted potential with its supporting cast and plot. Lyonne’s role as Nadia was not a strength and had someone else been cast in the role the show might’ve taken on a better appeal.
After a poor start, there was a glimmer of hope with the emergence of Alan and the exploration of what personality flaw might contribute to Nadia and Alan’s predicament but ultimately their resolution felt rushed and unearned by the end credits and left a feeling, not of satisfaction, but that of relief, allowing to move onto something else.
*Russian Doll will be available on Netflix starting Friday, February 1st*