For all of the intricate plot details and boosted budget, the season falls as flat as a pancake travelling through time and trains.
Four years after Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett) escaped mortality’s time loop together, 'Russian Doll' season two sees the subject of time rear its ugly head once again for the pair of New Yorkers. Swapping out a time loop for a New York City subway line that transports them into a different era, Nadia must work out why she's been sent into the past - and try not to mess up everything along the way.
The 'Groundhog Day' concept was a pretty engaging one for our first introduction to Nadia, adding elements of sci-fi and comedy into a series about death that also ended on a particularly high note. While not incredibly popular on Netflix, the series became a sleeper hit, taking home three Emmy Awards in 2019 for Costume, Cinematography and Production Design. These three fantastic award-winning elements very much remain intact here, the whole season looks gorgeous, but if only the storyline lived up to such impressive heights.
The whole problem we have with 'Russian Doll' season two is that it just seems completely unnecessary. It sees our main character get on the number 6622 train one evening, and before she knows it, she's been transported back to the '80s to around the time she was born. Not really knowing how or why this has happened (which doesn't get answered, FYI), Nadia goes along with whatever unfolds in front of her, all to do with her family's history and important moments that shaped her present-day life.
Truth be told, if we sound like we're being vague about the storyline, there are a lot of "spoilers" Netflix has deemed unsafe to be spoken about in reviews. So, vagueness seems like the order of the day by all accounts.
Instead, let's talk about Natasha Lyonne's Nadia; as great as the character is, with her quirky, never-ending lip service of quips and erratic, unpredictable nature, she begins to grate on the audience. Can't she sit still for five minutes and take a break? Must she always follow a half-explained clue and connect some dots that don't really make any sense? Her character follows a lot of hunches, which feels like lazy writing.
Annie Murphy in an undisclosed role doesn't feature enough to make a memorable impact. Truthfully, none of the supporting characters are given much room to develop here, with the exception of Ruthie (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia's adopted mother who becomes a pivotal point as the season trods on.
Even Alan, who in season one we discovered goes through the same time loop/death experience as Nadia, is treated to a half-baked story about love, race and discovery - a storyline that gets forgotten about the deeper we follow the main character. Greta Lee and Rebecca Henderson also return as best friends Maxine and Lizzy, but again fail to add much to the story, only serving as light comedic distractions.
For those who enjoyed the trippiness of season one, you'll have a field day here. Not only does the series feature various moments in time (well, duh), it also becomes very meta as the timeline begins to become a little more unsteady and unravel all across the NYC subway system. The season does feature some very experimental moments that this reviewer has never seen on screen before, so kudos to the writing team on that one.
After a season that was so self-contained, it's a shame then that season two ends up feeling like not everything has been answered. Certainly more personal for that main character than season one, it still feels like it's less organised chaos and just plain old chaotic. What really gets us down is that this seems like a cash-in more than anything. Season one was perfect enough - it didn't deserve a sloppier second course.
Start streaming all seven episodes of 'Russian Doll' season two on Netflix from Wednesday, April 20.