Natasha Lyonne stars in Netflix's latest bing-worthy seriesNetflix

‘Fun is for suckers. Staring down the barrel of my own mortality always beats fun’, says Nadia Vulvokov, right before skipping out on her 36th birthday party. Shortly afterwards she ends up in a freak accident where she is hit by a car and dies, only to wake up at the same birthday party forced to relive the very same night.

So begins the new Netflix original series ‘Russian Doll’, a testament to the timelessness of the time loop convention, and an existential journey involving death, trauma, mental illness, and genuine human connection. The entire series feels like a surreal escape room; it is littered with clues and possible red-herrings, all whilst Nadia repeatedly treads her way towards her next encounter with inevitable and ever-impending doom. Strange inclusions like the disappearing pets and mirrors, the eccentric homeless man who may hold all the answers, and the elusive ghost of Nadia’s childhood, mean that despite the necessarily repetitive structure, Russian Doll is never short of spinning exciting novelties on the time loop convention.

"Russian Doll is never short of spinning exciting novelties on the time loop convention."

While credit is due to creators Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland for adopting such a unique and dynamic take on this familiar format, the release of another show using cycles of repetition to tell a story and develop characters should call us to ask why we as audiences aren’t yet tired of being stuck in the loop? The plot device was famously popularised by the film ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993) and has returned to our screens countless times; recently with the release of ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ in cinemas and the third season of ‘The Good Place’ on Netflix. Russian Doll is wrought with the much of the same appeal as its fellows in TV and film, in the sense that the character’s entrapment in a Sisyphean nightmare forges authentic moral development and self-reflection. Indeed Nadia begins her loop staring vacantly into a mirror; on many occasions prior to cautiously taking the fire escape in order to avoid the stairs which she’s fallen down and died on for the umpteenth time.

"The inescapable compulsion for a character to grow and examine herself is a reason why we, as audiences, cannot resist the time loop"

Despite her frequent hilarious and ironic jests towards the fatal randomness of her situation (‘the universe is f***ing with me and I refuse to engage’ and ‘I gave everyone the opportunity to tell me I’m a bad person. Nobody did it because I f****ing rule’), even reckless and misanthropic Nadia eventually finds her situation steering her towards a path of redemption. Each time she relives the next identical night of her 36th birthday party she becomes more conscious of the choices she makes, and more inclined to extend kindness and empathy to others and accept the kindness and empathy which others are willing to give to her. It is the kind of refreshing optimism that we have seen before in ‘The Good Place’. However, unlike Kristen Bell’s brain-wiped Eleanor, Lyonne’s Nadia enters her cycles painstakingly aware of her patterns of death and rebirth, and in each repetition her acts become more valuable in and of themselves precisely because the purgatory is endless: there is no other incentive, no ulterior reward other than goodness itself.

Groundhog Day is is another famous time-loop filmYoutube - Columbia Pictures

The inescapable compulsion for a character to grow and examine herself is a reason why we, as audiences, cannot resist the time loop. It is striking to think that in reality, much of our daily lives play out unconsciously in similar cycles. We enter into our little routines, we go to our jobs, we see the same people in our day to day lives, and yet rarely pause to reflect significantly upon ourselves and our actions. Time loop narratives deploy this pause and rewind structurally, meaning that reflection follows after, and Russian Doll is compellingly self-aware in its own take on this existential message. Nadia has moments where she relishes in the ‘profoundly empty’ world, and yet this feeling is constantly juxtaposed by moments where she shows unfeigned empathy. By behaving in morally disparate ways in an identical setting, Nadia’s life becomes a fictional demonstration of how selflessness and vulnerability directed out towards the world makes not only for a better world out there but a better person within.


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The show really takes off after the introduction of ‘Alan’, an obsessive compulsive also stuck in his own loop, who finds comfort in being able to manage his expectations as a result of being trapped in a cycle. His encounter with Nadia throws his ‘simple and narcissistic’ take on reality up into the air, and ignites a heartwarming dynamic between the two characters. Without wishing to spoil too much, the first half of the show quickly establishes itself as witty, layered and idiosyncratic; but in this second half the layers extend beyond the plot to also focus on how complicated life and people really are.

Though it deliberately and tantalisingly fills its viewers heads with more questions and unsolved mysteries that it could ever answer in one season, Russian Doll has a compelling story to offer. Lyonne’s debut in writing and production have been widely applauded, and her portrayal of Nadia is electric. If you have a desire to take a moment to escape your own loop then this show is one to watch, as Nadia’s journey is guaranteed to take you to unexpected and exciting places.

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