‘Russian Doll’: What to Read About the Hit Netflix Series

Netflix’s “Russian Doll” is arguably the first true TV hit of 2019. Created by Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler and the star of the series, Natasha Lyonne, the show might be described as a raunchier “Groundhog Day” set in New York’s East Village. But there’s more going on here than that.

As Lyonne’s Nadia Vulvokov keeps dying and restarting her life, the team behind the show uses its looping structure to examine midlife crises, gentrification, our need for human connection and possibly the Tompkins Square riots. The reviews have been nearly unanimous in their praise, and as with shows like “Killing Eve” and “Stranger Things,” viewers are still dissecting and analyzing it several weeks after its debut. Can’t get enough “Russian Doll” yourself? Here’s a roundup of great things to read about it.


‘“Russian Doll”: Repetitive Death Syndrome’ [The New York Times]

In his pre-air review, James Poniewozik raved about the show, comparing it to recent eschatological TV comedies like “The Good Place” and “Forever.” He writes: “Like its peers, ‘Russian Doll’ resolves on the necessity of human connection, a familiar homily, but it’s too inventive and irascible to feel pat. This is a show with a big heart, but a nicotine-stained heart that’s been dropped in the gutter and kicked around a few times.”

‘“Russian Doll” Is the First Great Show of 2019’ [Esquire]

Tyler Coates raves about the show, writing: “Russian Doll feels like an achievement, a high-concept premise told concisely in a structure that rarely feels confined or tight. It’s both freewheeling and contained, and it accomplishes what most shows are unable to pull off: it tells a universal human story in a specific and carefully constructed world.”

‘Review: “Russian Doll,” a Beautiful Puzzle of a Series So Good You’ll Watch It Twice’ [LA Times]

Robert Lloyd at the Los Angeles Times offers one of several reviews pointing out the show’s replay value, calling it “a beautiful puzzle piece, a circular, multiplane, existential mystery-comedy set in the villages of Lower Manhattan.” He continues: “Peopled with memorable characters large and small, it’s a show that having watched once — not hard to do straight through and hard not to do straight through — you may want to watch again, to admire its machinery and joinery and find the clues you might have missed, but also because it feels just as good the second time around.”

‘Acerbic Yet Warm, “Russian Doll” Is More Rewarding Than Any Puzzle-Box Show’ [The A.V. Club]

Danette Chavez offers a smart take on the show’s flawed protagonist, writing: “The all-woman team behind Russian Doll — which, aside from Lyonne, Poehler and Headland, includes director Jamie Babbit — know just how special their lead is, and craft a story both worthy and reflective of her. As much as we might like her, Nadia is deeply flawed, so there are no beelines to betterment, no bromides to dull the show’s stinging humor.”


‘The Key to “Russian Doll” Might Be Tompkins Square Park’ [The New York Times]

Spurred by a series of Twitter posts from the critic Jason Zinoman, The Times’s Aisha Harris investigates the theory that the narrative of “Russian Doll” is “an against the grain meditation on the cultural guilt” leftover from the violence that took place in Tompkins Square Park in 1988, and notes that Headland and Lyonne responded positively to this theory.

‘How “Russian Doll” Unpacks Trauma and Emerges Triumphant’ [Variety]

Caroline Framke examines the ways in which “Russian Doll” unfolds like a therapy session in her excellent piece on the show’s deeper themes and the way they’re reflected in its structure. She writes: “By the end, “the broken man and the girl with a death wish” have to deal with the kind of pain they never thought they wanted to explore. But as “Russian Doll” ends up arguing so convincingly, the only way to stop feeling the dull throb of that pain every damn day is to stare it in the face, force it to blink, and move on from there.”

‘Returning to “Russian Doll,” Again and Again’ [Boston Globe]

It’s rare to see a TV critic return so quickly to a show he has already reviewed in order to dive deeper into its themes, but Matthew Gilbert does exactly that, writing: “In a way, ‘Russian Doll’ asks what happens when death is off the table. As her reincarnation loop continues — in episode two, that loop is so speedy that it’s played for farce — Nadia is prodded out of her perpetual sense of pointlessness; her apprehension of death is no longer making her human needs seem futile. The worst happens, she dies, but: It only brings her more life, more chances.”

‘“Russian Doll” Casts Men in Roles Usually Reserved for Women. The Results Are Brilliant.’ [Vox]

Todd VanDerWerff noticed how the roles played by men in “Russian Doll” were the kind typically cast with women. “In particular, if you look at how Russian Doll uses men, you’ll realize how deep the series’ interest in centering women’s perspectives goes,” he writes. “This show uses men the way most pop culture uses women — which is to say it turns them into supporting players whose inner lives are mostly glossed over in the name of what the protagonist is going through.”


‘Natasha Lyonne Has a New Life. It’s Just That She Keeps Dying.’ [The New York Times]

Kathryn Shattuck had a pre-premiere chat with Lyonne about New York, the show’s semi-autobiographical themes, the all-female writers’ room and more. Speaking about the way death is used is in the show, Lyonne says: “There’s probably a bit of a misconception around how key the deaths are. It was more an emotional story of bottoming out. There are metaphorical deaths big and small throughout the day: There are the bigger ones where you just feel like your whole world is collapsing, [because of] health or a relationship falling apart. Then there’s the smaller deaths of the text message that didn’t get responded to that you’re obsessing on, and it feels like you’re suddenly a hollow man inside.”

‘How Do You Dress a Russian Doll?’ [The New York Times]

Ruth La Ferla takes a look at the fashion of “Russian Doll,” speaking to the program’s costume designer, Jenn Rogien, who also worked on “Girls” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Rogien says: “We needed these characters to feel cool and interesting. But we also needed them to feel like real people trapped in a very strange circumstance.”

‘“Russian Doll”: What Made Natasha Lyonne Leap Into Directing Her Netflix Comedy’ [IndieWire]

The creators Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland spoke to IndieWire about how they assembled a very close team of personal friends to make the show, and about the vibe of a female-fronted production. Headland joked that day players would comment on how smooth and relaxed everything was on set. “And it was like, ‘Yeah, because it’s a female AD, and a female director, and a female showrunner and star,’” she said.

‘“Russian Doll”’s Charlie Barnett on Alan, Oatmeal, and the Bachelorette Party That Changed His Life’ [Vulture]

Charlie Barnett, who plays Alan, spoke to Vulture about his time on the show, revealing that they shot multiple endings to the season — and that he had been too busy to see which one made it to Netflix: “I have to admit, I actually don’t even know how it ends. I’m working on another smaller movie with Jamie Babbit right now, and it was also my birthday like two days ago — I was waiting until I got back home to Los Angeles to finish watching it because I’d only got to episode three.”

‘“Russian Doll” Creators Say Working With Only Female Directors and Writers on the Netflix Show Happened by Accident but Was “Freeing”’ [Insider]

Headland goes into more detail about the impact of an all-female writing and directing team on “Russian Doll.” ”It isn’t about finding a romantic partner,” she says. ”It isn’t about balancing parenthood and motherhood. It isn’t about trying to infiltrate a work force where almost in every industry we’re underpaid and underrepresented.”

Other Fun Stuff

‘This Is That Song From “Russian Doll”’ [The New York Times]

Every time Nadia arrives back in the bathroom at her 36th birthday party, viewers hear the same song, Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up.” Aisha Harris offers not just a chance to hear that song again, but Lyonne’s comments on why they chose Nilsson. “There was always a kind of ending that was unpleasant that was percolating under the surface of his songs,” Lyonne says, “even at their most upbeat and certainly at their darkest.”

‘Here Are the “Russian Doll” Easter Eggs You Missed While You Were Trying to Figure Out WTF Was Going On’ [Cosmopolitan]

Hannah Chambers has a fun piece that breaks down the references and Easter eggs embedded in “Russian Doll” from the meaning behind that Ariadne poster over Nadia’s desk to the revelation that three actors play multiple roles. “The good news is, creators Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland loaded this series up with tons of Easter eggs, so its binge value is super high,” Chambers writes. “Here are some of the hidden details you may have missed while you were freaking out over the prospect of falling down your apartment steps and dying.”

‘The Deeper Meaning of Russian Doll’s Most Mysterious Character, Horse’ [Polygon]

Over at Polygon, Karen Han takes a deeper look at one of the show’s most interesting supporting personalities, the homeless man named Horse. She writes, “Rather than being doomed to repeat himself like Nadia or Alan (Charlie Barnett), or being utterly oblivious, as all of Nadia and Alan’s friends and family appear to be, Horse seems to possess some grain of agency or knowledge that places him just out of that frame — he’s almost a shepherd.”

‘Relive the Magic of “Russian Doll” With Its Official Playlist on Spotify’ [Nerdist]

This excellent article on the music of “Russian Doll” offers not only a way to listen to the show’s diverse soundtrack but also reveals that Lyonne almost chose songs by Lou Reed and Roxy Music to serve as the tune that Nadia hears every time she “awakens.” A s the writer Lindsey Romain notes, however: “it isn’t the only song that gives Russian Doll its unique edge. The series is a brilliant, heart-wrenching meditation on topics like mental illness, addiction, and endless cycle of self-destruction, and the entire soundtrack is loaded with gems reflecting its themes. The track list includes jams from John Maus, the Echocentrics, Cults, Pussy Riot, and more.”

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