I'll admit it, two episodes into Netflix's latest show 'Russian Doll', and it was doing nothing for me. The premise of it was enough to draw me in but the character of Nadia, as much as I love Natasha Lyonne, was so unbelievably grating and self-absorbed that I struggled to see how I could ever like her. The repetition of her dying and coming back to life in the same bathroom with that earworm of a song playing was testing my patience and while I knew there must be some greater point to it all, I really wasn't bothered enough to stick around and find out what.
Thankfully, I did, because at the end of episode three something happens that sends the entire series spiralling in a different direction, making it into something with so much depth and craft behind it, I was left berating myself for judging it so harshly to begin with. For judging Nadia so harshly.
Have you ever had a good friend who, when you first met, you found them to be so loud and what seemed obnoxious that you just didn't know what to make of them? And then somehow they end up sticking around and you realise they are one of those amazing rare breeds you want in your corner? That's Nadia.
The premise of the story is like a cross between 'Groundhog Day' and 'Happy Death Day', as Nadia finds herself in a loop of dying and coming back to life at her 36th birthday party. At first, she investigates various theories of what could be happening, looking at the possibility of it being anything from some strange drug to the much scarier idea that she too could be becoming like her troubled mother.
It's only when she meets Alan (Charlie Barnet), who has also been dying multiple times, that any kind of connecting of the dots really starts to be done. This unlikely duo are suddenly thrown together in search of the meaning behind what is happening to them. What the show does well here is not to dumb down the message into a simple moral tale. It knows life is more complex than that and while ultimately Nadia and Alan end up changing themselves to break their spell, the show isn't about judging them for who they were in the first place. It's more about forcing them - with each other's help - to discover the source of their unhappiness, which as with many, isn't always clear at first glance.
'Russian Doll' initially seems to pitch its tent as a comedy, and with Amy Poehler on board on the writing team, you would figure there would be laughs a-plenty, but it's actually not all that funny. The real enjoyment comes later on when the jokes are left behind and we start to get to the heart of the matter.
While it is a slow-start, you soon realise that most of the characters, even the ones that are only in the background at first, serve a purpose to move the story along. They still probably shouldn't have waited until almost halfway through to bring Alan in as it's only then the story really develops for both characters. It's worth sticking around for though as 'Russian Doll' delivers something truly unique in a saturated TV market.
Mostly, what I think resonates with viewers, is that it is a story about friendship. and forgiveness and realising that, as Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley) points out, we often are unreliable narrators of our own story.
A modern take on the classic time-loop trope, 'Russian Doll' is a show that forces you to look within and leaves you sort of in awe of the journey it took you on to get there.