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TV Series Review

Nadia's dead. Or not. Or both. Or something. Or fish.

No, scratch that. She's definitely not a fish, or a school of fish, or anything related to fish. Though this show does remind me of my favorite eighth-grade joke: "How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" "Fish."

Also, regardless of Nadia's state of life, something fishy is definitely going on.

Don't Forget Your Booties, 'Cause It's Cold Out There

Let's take a page from Nadia's own Russian Doll playbook and backtrack a bit.

Nadia's problems—well, her current existential problems, at any rate—seem to begin in the bathroom. It's her 36th birthday, and her friend Maxine is throwing her a party. She's tidying herself up in Maxine's freakish, vaguely sexual powder room and readying herself to dive back into the fray.

And then, later that evening, she dies. And she finds herself staring at herself in that psychedelic bathroom mirror again.

And so begins the pattern for the next stage in Nadia's life (or lack thereof). Sometimes she dies a few minutes later, sometimes a few hours, sometimes she doesn't seem to die at all. No matter: She always winds back up in the very same bathroom at her very same birthday party. She seems to be caught in some strange, inescapable time vortex and can't figure how to get out.

That's bad enough, naturally, but at least it's straightforward. But alas, this Netflix show drives its Groundhog Day premise a few further stops on the crazy train.

First, there's another guy in the loop with her—a dude named Alan. They didn't know each other beforehand, but suddenly they're inextricably connected. Together, they have to figure out why they're looping like this, how to break said time loop and how to literally go on with their lives.

And then there's this: As the story unspools, characters in both of their lives simply up and … disappear. Poof. Why? Who knows? Nadia and Alan are naturally flummoxed by these happenings—and by a great many other occurrences.

Are they trapped in some sort of multiverse? Have their missing friends just vanished from creation, or are they wandering different timelines? Are Nadia and Alan in a version of purgatory? Or did Nadia, as she initially suspects, just use a particularly virulent party drug? The answers unfold (or not) step by episodic step, folded in layers of symbolism and philosophy and metaphor and, oh yes, super-crude behavior.

Déjà Ewww

Give credit to Russian Doll for one thing: It's smart. This is not a Netflix series that its creators slapped together during a lunchbreak.

Even the show's title has layers of meaning—much as a matryoshka doll has layers of … dolls. Just as Nadia's ever-duplicating days suggest the "hatching" of a new nesting doll, so we grow to know Nadia better with each new iteration. Or perhaps with each new chance she's given, she becomes someone else, in a sense, with each death opening to a new life and opportunity—hopefully one in which she's a little better than before.

And just as Nadia encounters her own second chances, so the show painstakingly unpeels philosophical layers of its own, with a nugget of morality found at its innermost core. You see, this is, in some ways, a deeply spiritual story. Past sins and hurts are explored and reckoned with. Penance is asked for or exacted. It's no coincidence, methinks, that the birthday party takes place in what used to be a school dedicated to Judaism. "[People] used to study the Talmud right where you're standing," Nadia tells one of the party's revelers.

But just as Nadia begins to feel pretty weird about this hedonistic party being thrown in what used to be a "sacred place," so Russian Doll takes its own ethical core and wraps it in layer after layer of problems.

Nadia, at least initially, treats sex as a rather aggravating pastime—a necessary, grimy respite in an even grimier existence. (She's not alone: Hookups, including of the same-sex variety, are common.) She drinks and smokes and has no qualms about taking drugs: She brags, in fact, that her body has the "internal organs of a man twice my age." And one of her friends marvels at her indestructability—calling her a cockroach. "It's impossible to destroy you!" she says. Little does that friend know how right she really is.

The way Nadia goes about, um, restarting her day can get pretty graphic, too. She does not quietly fade away: Her spirit is wrested violently from her mortal coil via a car crash and a tumble down the stairs and any number of other painful passings.

Russian Doll is, like its namesake matryoshkas, compelling and mysterious and even darkly fun at times. But when it comes to the content we find here, this Doll most resembles Annabelle or Chucky: In other words, it's pretty horrific.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Feb. 1, 2019: "Nothing in This World is Easy"



Readability Age Range



Natasha Lyonne as Nadia Vulvokov; Charlie Barnett as Alan Zaveri; Greta Lee as Maxine; Elizabeth Ashley as Ruth Brenner; Rebecca Henderson as Lizzy; Jeremy Bobb as Mike Kershaw; Ritesh Rajan as Farran; Yul Vazquez as John Reyes; Dascha Polanco as Beatrice; Brendan Sexton III as Horse






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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