2019, TV

Russian Doll (2019)

So let me try to tell you as little as possible: this is a funny show with lots of pathos that deftly balances dark comedy with strong performances of people with metal health problems. If any of that interests you, see this without learning anything else about it. Ideally, if you can even avoid knowing the show’s main conceit – which you probably have read or heard about somewhere – that would make the experience even better.


So, that conceit is Groundhog Day. And everyone knows that, even me. But if I hadn’t know that I would have liked this show even more. I would have been shocked the first time she died, and that would have been great.

But knowing this is the same conceit as Groundhog Dag does not take away from how fresh a spin on that conceit this is. Instead of one person experiencing it, we have two. (I did warn you there’d be spoilers.) And the characters at the heart of this story are considerably more damaged than Bill Murray’s. (If I remember correctly: Murray was just an asshole, not obviously damaged in the way we would recognize now.) For me, that makes their journeys more compelling, as this is not just about becoming a better human and finding love, it’s about finding redemption through doing something for someone else (among other things).

The show does an excellent job of creating two equally believable, vivid worlds, connected by one asshole professor who is sleeping with literally everyone. Not only do the main characters feel realized but their supporting characters (and the set design) feel real, like two worlds existing in the same city which parallel the timelines which eventually fracture out of them.

I don’t have the highest tolerance for “I have to make things right!” stories unless they are handled very well. And this one is in part because the mystery aspect of the repeating days is handled well enough that you’re constantly wondering what the hell is happening and not worrying too much about the redemption until you’re engrossed enough in the story that you care.

But despite liking this show I can’t imagine I will be watching the second season, for the simple reason that I have no idea how they could make a second season. And, as Jenn said, I can’t imagine a second season will make it better.


Season 2

Apparently, I didn’t bother to re-read this review when I decided to watch the second season. That was a mistake. Because, this is one of those shows which should have just been one season.

(As an aside: ask yourself how many shows improve as they go on?)

Jenn immediately didn’t like it. I didn’t like it either, but not as much as Jenn. I should have listened to her but my completist streak took over, especially when I realized how short this one was.

It’s not bad but it is not, in any way, an improvement over the first, and it’s not remotely up to the standards of the first, in my opinion. It’s not fresh. It’s not as funny. It’s far more confused. (I’d say it’s an absolute mess from a story perspective.) It still looks good, it still sounds good, and it still has some moments. But it is a few steps down from the first season. Though if you’re asking me what specifically is wrong, I’m not sure if I can put my finger on it, exactly.

In the first season, they are unwillingly trapped in their inexplicable circumstance. In this season, that trap is entirely voluntary. That feels categorically different to me. It feels like it’s a mess of their own making, not a puzzle.

Notably, there’s way more plot but there are fewer episodes. This is not a good thing, though I do tend to appreciate in brevity in TV now (given how long everything is). In this case, it feels like there’s too much story, too many threads.


And like nearly all time-travel-based movies and TV, this one is wrapped up in a neat little bow with way too much ease. Basically, she learns her lesson. It’s a cliche. (Also, it’s pretty similar to the first season’s moral.) And whatever cliches were present in the first season, they were handled deftly. I wouldn’t say this season feels particularly deft.

I looked up the critical response and I see we’re in the minority here. And I don’t really understand why. To me, this is yet another TV show which is a classic example of a great first season and a second season which is so clearly inferior.

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