Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Russian Doll


The story idea explored so wonderfully in Groundhog Day, of someone who dies repeatedly and wakes up on the same day the “next” morning has been used in several other films, some of them good, some not so good. It has even been used in a slasher movie which, I’m told, is actually a very black comedy, something called Happy Death Day, which I’m sort of interested in seeing, even though I’m not much on slasher films. It got pretty good reviews.

This is a good one. A very, very good one. Natasha Lyonne, who was great in {{Orange Is the New Black,} at least in the first two seasons that we watched, is Nadia Vulvokov. I just looked it up; it was an intentional play on vulva. She finds herself getting killed and returning to a moment in the bathroom at her birthday party thrown by her trendy New York friends. (“Gotta Get Up” by Harry Nilsson is playing in the background. In Groundhog Day “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher is playing on the radio. I can’t figure out which is a worse number to hear every time you are resurrected.) She tries to figure out what’s happening, and it’s pretty funny. Most of her deaths are pretty blackly funny. She meets a man who is in the same predicament. (Enabling her to deliver one of the funniest lines ever: “I’ll meet you yesterday morning at the party.”) She figures there’s no harm being done to anyone, but after a gas explosion kills both her and her rather ditsy therapist friend (played by Elizabeth Ashley, who I didn’t remember seeing for a long time, but who has been steadily working since her big days of stardom), she begins to wonder if those worlds she has left might go on without her. Maybe her curse has killed her aunt in an alternate universe.

The complications grow. We begin to notice that flowers are all wilted and fruits and vegetables we see are covered with mold. It looks like time is passing in some way, even if Nadia doesn’t experience it. Then each time she comes back there are fewer people in evidence. Her friends at the party are vanishing …

At one point someone is seen playing a video game, where the viewpoint character dies, and the game resets. Like, what if Pac-Man or Mario were real beings? Wouldn’t that be a shitty life?

I enjoyed this tremendously. It was developed and partly written by Amy Poehler and Lyonne herself. The writing is sharp and comic. I would nominate it for an Emmy. Lyonne is perfect, with a brash New York attitude and an accent that sounds like the Bronx to me. Mostly she gives us that in-your-face attitude New Yorkers are so good at. Lyonne is 5-foot-nothing, and Nadia has an explosion of red hair that reaches out to her shoulders.

So here she shows us that she is not only a great comic actor, but a writer and director as well. This Netflix show does not lend itself to a second season because the story is all wrapped up cleanly, and properly so. But I’ll be looking for her next project.

BTW: I have to add this. When the credits rolled on one episode we saw it was written by Cirocco Dunlap. Another episode was produced and directed by her. Could it be? Yes! I wrote to her and she said she had been named after a character in a science fiction series, who had the same name as me. Could I be …? Yes!

She has some nice short films at her website.

She has published two children’s books, and has sold some pretty funny essays to The New Yorker. Wow, I’m impressed. I know I had nothing to do with it, but I’m just so pleased that she’s a writer! And as if that weren’t enough, she actually looks a lot like the Cirocco I saw as I was writing.