Russian Doll Seasons 1-2 (blu-ray TV series review)

‘Russian Doll’ could so easily have ground to a halt. Leaving her own 36 birthday party, computer programmer Nadia Vulvokov (actress Natasha Lyonne) gets hit by a car and then finds herself back in the bathroom at the party. She explores what happened and wrong steps, like slipping down the stairs, she dies and back to the bathroom. It would be so easy to have Nadia stay around the party but she finds she can get on to the next day and sees sorting out other people’s problems as a means to break the cycle. It doesn’t. She keeps dying and ends up back in the bathroom at the party. She then comes across Alan Zaveri (actor Charlie Barnett) who is having a similar problem and their ‘deaths’ go into synchronisation but neither can find a solution even when they shake their lifepaths up, trying to break the pattern. It allows time to try out all kinds of theories and finding they are wrong. Presumably, had they found it, they wouldn’t be alive to find out.

In many respects, a theme of dying and coming back again and again has been done in the likes of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and ‘Stargate SG-1’ but this is the first time it’s done on a terrestrial time. The term ‘Russian Doll’ is a reference to a Matryoshka Doll, with a doll inside each layer. You peel back each one to see what’s inside.

Oddly, with the second season, there is a quantum leap twist when Nadia finds herself inhabiting her mother’s pregnant body much of the time and occasionally seeing they separate in the same place. Her mother, Lenora (actress Chloë Sevigny) is a real washout but pregnant with Nadia but she is a clue into finding out what happened to some Budapest gold stolen by the Nazi in World War Two as her own grandmother. Occasionally, Nadia returns to the present but I’m not sure how she’s doing that, other than getting on a train is the key.

Alan, meanwhile, doesn’t appear until episode 4 of the second season, appearing in Germany’s East Berlin as his mother, Dr. Zaveri (actress Lillias White) in a plan to get under the wall, although she/he seeks a more conventional means to get into West Berlin. In many respects, this sub-plot tends to secondary to Nadia’s adventures but enough to indicate what is happening to his life at the same time.

This second season really gets surreal towards the end but a lot is packed into each 30 minute episode and its easy to see why its getting plaudits in the USA. Is it Science Fiction or fantasy, I’m less sure. Just because we’re not given an explanation as to why and what is going on doesn’t necessarily make it easy to say which. If anything, you’re watching to find out what happens next. I’ve seen actress/co-writer/co-producer/director Natasha Lyonne in ‘Poker Face’ which made me want to see this earlier production. Both series has intelligent writing and unexpected twists and you can probably find them on Netflix if you don’t want to buy the blu-ray/DVD versions. The fact that ‘Russian Doll’ in both seasons takes something that has been previously done with an even better spin makes it even more remarkable.

GF Willmetts

June 2024

(pub: 2022Production. 2 blu-ray disks. 15 * 30 minute episodes. Price: varies. ASIN:

LG-M1534. NB I had to pull a Japanese release but all I had to do was turn off the Japanese sub-titles)

cast: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley and countless more


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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