REVIEW: If the 2019 first season of Netflix’s cult comedy Russian Doll drew comparisons to Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run and Edge of Tomorrow, then the second, seven-part instalment (which debuts on the streaming service on Wednesday night, April 20) definitely has a Back to the Future or Quantum Leap-vibe about it.
It’s been four years since the time-loop troubles that plagued acerbic New York software engineer Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne, pulling triple-duty as the show’s director and one of three main writers) ended. While, back then, it felt like her 36th birthday would never end, no matter how hard she tried, now she has more traditional concerns to worry about. That includes accompanying her godmother Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley) to the hospital, after she’s involved in a fender bender.
“Are they actually treating patients here, or are we just putting on a Beckett play,” she snipes, while the pair endure a seemingly interminable wait.
Still, it gives the duo a chance for them – and us – to catch up, as Nadia’s reveals that quitting smoking is “still a process” for her and that, while she acknowledges that her lungs “now look like two shrivelled-up Nick Caves”, she’s so sick of doctors, “I need to see a doctor about it”.
The first season of Russian Doll featured some truly memorable one-liners.
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However, it’s while catching the No.6 train on the subway that things suddenly start getting really freaky again. It begins with a guy sporting a Travis Bickle outfit, followed by an unnerving newspaper dateline. Then, when she reaches into her pocket, instead of pulling out her phone, all that’s there is a matchbook for a local bar.
Deciding that heading there is her only recourse, she instinctively asks for a bourbon. “You sure about that?” the bartender enquires.
“It’s about the only thing I’m sure of. Basic concepts of time and space have now eluded me. Last night, this place was mayhem when the wi-fi went out. Now, I see gratuitous nudity is back,” she says, noting the attire of some of the bar’s other clientele.
Then comes the kicker, when Nadia looks in the mirror, it’s not her own reflection staring back at her. As she gabbles to fellow former “time prisoner” Alan (Charlie Barnett) after making it back to 2022 via the No.6: “The universe has found something worse for me than death – being my mother.”
Anchored, essentially driven by the brilliant Lyonne, Russian Doll once again delivers audiences a night to remember. I say that, because this is essentially a three-and-a-half-hour feature film with six snack and toilet breaks built in.
I mean – you could try and watch it in instalments, but the lure of binge-watching in a single session is just way too powerful to resist.
Part of that is down to the catchy conundrum and trying to work out how Lyonne and fellow creators Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland will solve it, some is a result of the show’s magnificently evocative sense of space and place and much of it is down to the insanely charismatic qualities of Lyonne herself.
And, if the first series made an earworm out of Harry Nilsson’s Gotta Get Up, then this will have Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus on repeat in your head.
Season 2 of Russian Doll will begin streaming on Netflix on the evening of April 20.