Time travel first captured my nerdy sci-fi loving heart at a young age with the classic ’80s/’90s Back to the Future trilogy starring Michael J. Fox and the TV series Quantum Leap starring Scott Bakula. Other influential timey wimey cinematic gems include Groundhog Day (1993), Looper (2012), and Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece Interstellar (2014). Needless to say, I love artistry that tackles mysteries of the universe.
This is how Netflix’s 2019 series Russian Doll lured me in for a wild eight episode binge, putting its own spin on the concept of time loops. More recently, the series unexpectedly returns applying its unique style to time travel and creating one crazy train that goes to unanticipated places.
For those not in the know, Russian Doll Season 1 is a dark comedic drama with sci-fi connotations starring Natasha Lyonne (American Pie ’99) as Nadia Vulvokov. Full of cynicism, attitude, and sarcasm, Nadia finds herself dying Groundhog Day style only to return to her friend’s bathroom at a party celebrating her 36th birthday. I know. This cliché scenario has been played out since Bill Murray joined Punxsutawney Phil onscreen in the ’90s. However, this story takes a unique turn when Nadia meets Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) who is stuck in the same ongoing time loop. Together, the duo notice people disappearing with every time reset adding dire pressure and a countdown to figuring out this time loop mystery.
Although this series concluded on a bizarre note, Season 1 could have easily been a one run special, so I was surprised when Nadia and Alan returned for another tango with the universe. Although I came to love these two flawed characters and their personal struggles that came to light during their last misadventure, I expected little from a followup. But, oh, was I wrong.
Still sarcastic, only now with a lighter devil may care attitude, Nadia plans to celebrate her 40th birthday quietly … probably to avoid another crazy cosmic conundrum. However, the universe has other plans. After being flipped off by Horse (Brendan Sexton III: Empire Records), the eccentric bum from Season 1, Nadia steps onto a subway train and right into 1982. In need of a drink due to her abrupt arrival at an unintended destination, Nadia goes to a bar where she humorously philosophizes with a fellow patron spouting off my favorite quote: “when the universe f*cks with you, let it.”
When a sleazy-looking con-artist named Chez (Sharlto Copley: Chappie) flirtatiously approaches, Nadia takes his advancements as your run-of-the-mill pre-hookup bar behavior. As they’re being chased out of the establishment, it becomes clear this walking talking ’80s cokehead stereotype knows her. Rather than getting lost in confusion, Nadia rolls with this peculiarity while picking his pocket for his ID.
After all, stranger things have happened. Like repeatedly dying in a time loop and traveling back in time 40 years. But this is just the tip of the WTF iceberg. Nadia soon catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror discovering that she’s in the body of her mother (Chloe Sevigny: Boys Don’t Cry) and pregnant with … well … her.
Reaching her threshold for weirdness, Nadia finds her way back to the crazy train and the year 2022. After telling Alan about her discovery, Nadia learns about a family wealth that was lost just before she was born. Utilizing the time traveling train to change the trajectory of her life, Nadia sets out on a reckless mission. Meanwhile, Alan takes a much more cautious approach in his travels as he experiences being his grandmother, Agnes (Carolyn Michelle Smith), in 1962 East Germany.
Binge watching Russian Doll Season 2 in a day and a half, I was once again drawn in by this show’s artistic dark comedic style of sci-fi drama. With a quirky Quantum Leap-esque element, this Netflix original followup throws away time travel rules and showcases creative reality-warping consequences of creating paradoxical events. This season also gives us more insight into each of Nadia and Alan’s family histories and the personal challenges these pivotal ancestors faced to give life to the two characters we’ve come to know.
At the risk of sounding overanalytical, what makes this show meaningful to me are the perspectives on life, destiny, consciousness, and the mysteries of the universe. I love how this story demonstrates some things can’t be changed, some things happen for a reason, and when we attempt to exert too much control through extreme measures, our world can fall apart.
Just as Nadia spoke a line of enlightenment upon first arriving in ’82, another favorite quote emerged from Alan’s story: “we can’t spend our lives so scared of making the wrong moves that we never live at all.”
With brilliant wacky twists on old sci-fi concepts, outstanding performances, and the hysterical Natasha Lyonne (who also happens to be one of the show’s creators), Russian Doll has won 6 awards, including 3 Primetime Emmys, and garnished 48 nominations. Although this series isn’t anything groundbreaking for the sci-fi genre, it uses cinematic influence in unexpected ways, adding its own twist and conveying deeper meaning within the story.
Although the show does not really need a third season after its finale, I would not be opposed to another Nadia and Alan misadventure. This was certainly a binge worthy followup I never knew I wanted.