“Russian Doll,” Netflix’s newest series, which premiered on Feb. 1, has already sparked great critical and public attention from viewers worldwide only a week after its release. Originally created by an all-female dream team of Amy Poehler, Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland, “Russian Doll” is an exploration of existentialism, alternate realities, the relativity of time and childhood traumas. These psychological thematic centers that the show’s narrative revolves around strengthen the exquisite characters, leading the audience to become more invested in the show’s intense conflicts. While only a week has passed since the show’s release, audiences are already begging for more.
At first glance, the New York City-based series seemingly follows a “Groundhog Day”-esque plot, revolving around a young woman named Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) who repeatedly dies at her birthday party. At the end of every night, she somehow manages to get herself killed in ominous ways: by falling in the Hudson River, stepping into potholes and even being hit by a washing machine thrown out of a window. Upon her repeated deaths, she wakes up on the morning of her birthday in the dimly lit, Bohemian bathroom of her friend’s home, before setting off on a scavenger hunt to better understand why she’s trapped in such a hellish fever dream.
The stunning cinematography lets us familiarize ourselves with some of New York City’s more hidden locations, like old Jewish schools, delis, parks and rustic holes-in-the-wall. We follow Nadia’s progression as she finds clues and formulates theories of why she’s living the same day over and over again. The screenwriting, which was particularly compelling, helps bring to life Nadia’s witty and bold New Yorker attitude. Nadia’s mostly cynical dialogue is in line with the dark comedy sub-genre, yet the series simply cannot be categorized.
While the ironic, dry-humored screenplay incorporates an aspect of dark comedy, other cinematic elements offer a different turn in the genre. The lighting has a low-key, dim and almost expressionist nature, full of deep shadows, soft glows of natural light with a warm, earthy color-palette, falling into the conventions of a neo-noir genre, which also helps to develop the ambiguous, ominous narrative of the show.
The visual and stylistic choices behind “Russian Doll” are a dramatic departure from mainstream television series. These choices attempt to evoke realism through a simple light setup or displace an overall lack of focus on lighting entirely. The series’ unconventional outlook on narrative structure and sharp dialogue already make it one of the most intriguing and memorable viewing experiences of the year.
This article was published in the Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 print edition. Email Anna Lee at [email protected]