‘Russian Doll’ Season 2 Review: Natasha Lyonne Brings A Time Travel Twist To Netflix Hit

The series returns for its second season and adds another success into the company’s growing arsenal
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When season 1 of Russian Doll hit Netflix in February 2019, the implementation of any type of quarantine, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was still a bit over a year away. And yet, the quirky sci-fi comedy – following Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia as she attempts to make sense of her reality upon getting stuck in a time loop, forced to relive her 36th birthday over and over – felt like a prediction of our own stuck-at-home realities to come.

Three years have gone by since the series first dropped to the streamer, and on Wednesday, April 20, the comedy Lyonne co-created with Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland returns for its sophomore outing. While the existential crisis is different (goodbye time loop, hello time travel), the tone, pacing, and offbeat sensibilities of the series remain. In short: Russian Doll continues to bring the quirky fun, and Lyonne returns with one of the funniest and most engaging performances on TV today.

Season 2 picks up four years later, as Nadia is on the verge of celebrating her 40th birthday. Everything feels normal until one fateful night when she boards a subway train and inadvertently travels back to 1982 New York. It turns out that, instead of a Groundhog Day scenario, Nadia is now living her best Back to the Future life, with an extra dose of nihilism and no Delorean in sight.

Why is she in the past, anyway? Family, basically. In the present day, Nadia is caring for her ailing family friend Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley). And unbeknownst to her, her old friend is the link to a complex family conundrum involving a bag of stolen gold which leads our reluctant red-haired hero on an adventure that spans multiple decades and countries. Through it all, her bloodline unveils one bombshell after the other. Russian Doll is still Russian Dolling.

In an effort to keep the heavier spoilers at bay, this is about as deep as I’ll go with the story’s subject matter. But one thing worth noting is that, like every story of this ilk, the rules of time travel apply here. Nadia isn’t at all phased by unleashing a butterfly effect, either. In fact, she’s pretty aloof to the whole thing. “Inexplicable things happening is my entire modus operandi,” she says early on in the season, revealing her nonchalance at each baffling experience she saunters into, cigarette in hand, sunglasses keeping the daylight at bay.

This is where the season diverts from its Back to the Future or even Quantum Leap-inspired theme. With every new adventure thrown at Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) or Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), they always reacted with emotion – be it surprise, wonder, or fear. But Nadia’s chill demeanor doesn’t just add to the witty charisma that Lyonne brings to the character, it keeps the overall tone of the series in line with Season 1 while lowering the story stakes a tad due to the simple fact that she’s no longer dying at every turn.

Nadia’s time-loop buddy Alan (Charlie Barnett) and Maxine (Greta Lee), her birthday party-hosting pal from Season 1, both return in this new run of episodes. But Lyonne is still, hands-down, the best thing about the show. The Orange Is the New Black alum is pitch-perfect as the raspy-voiced, self-deprecating, New Yorker. Lyonne’s comic timing, character investment, and deep understanding of Nadia’s trauma and the show’s story world results in one of the most unique, heartfelt, poignant, and hilarious performances seen on TV in recent years.

If you’re in the mood to travel back to the dingy streets of early ‘80s New York, or Eastern Europe of the 1940s, while a riff on Bauhaus’s goth rock anthem “Bella Legosi’s Dead” plunges you deeper into an unpredictable mystery as a sardonic hero makes light of things with delicious f-bombs and oddly-timed pop culture references – well, then this show is for you.

And if not, it may still be for you.

Russian Doll has shed the gimmick that allowed it to shine when it first premiered in 2019 but replaced that unique story mechanism with an equally interesting one. Season 2 offers a different type of existential mystery that explores the impact of generational trauma, the ripples it makes within a family, and the complications of identity that may come out of such a mess. The pacing and story meanders a bit but considering the half-hour running time of each episode, and Lyonne’s magnetic performance grounding every minute she’s on-screen, the season is a superbly enjoyable binge.


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