Tuesday, February 26, 2019

RUSSIAN DOLL -- My review

I must admit, I went into RUSSIAN DOLL with some trepidation. This is the new eight-episode series on Netflix that is getting a lot of buzz. But the premise didn’t seem great to me – GROUNDHOG DAY except the lead character keeps dying and starting over at the same spot. I figured it was like seeing 17 rewrites of the same scene.

But I gave it a try (people I trust because they hate everything liked it, so what the hell?) and was very pleasantly surprised. By the end of episode two I was hooked.

For Natasha Lyonne this was the role and hairstyle of a lifetime. She plays a totally out-there, foul-mouthed, wise-cracking, party girl chain-smoking, hard drinking, drug taking, thrill seeker narcissist with a good heart and DNA laced with mental illness and dysfunction. In other words, as an actress she had something to play.

And she played the crap out of that character.

To flesh out the premise, Lyonne plays “Nadia” who is at her 36th birthday party hosted by her wacky BFF Greta Lee and surrounded by all her Bohemian friends. This takes place in whatever section of Manhattan has converted every room into a loft, even rooms on the ground floor. Each time she wanders off in a new variation that ultimately leads to the kinds of death Wile E. Coyote suffers – falls down stairs, falls into manholes, electrocuted, and my favorite – some giant anvil-like object falls on her head. But each time she returns to “Go” she takes with her the memory of what happened before. And each time elements charge slightly (e.g. there are fewer people at the party).

So slowly she tries to piece together what is happening to her and how to stop it.

At this point, maybe three episodes in, my overriding thought was: “You better RESOLVE this by the end of episode eight. This better not be a cliffhanger after I followed this Shaggy Dog story for four hours!”

Happy to say they do wrap it up. And beyond that I’ll say no more about the plot. But I will say that the storytelling is inventive, intricate, at times very funny, surprising, and you’ll be binging it I guarantee it. The look is rich and glossy. Other standout performances are from Elizabeth Ashley, Jeremy Bobb, and Charlie Barnett.  Also points for playing "Alone Again, Or" by Love to end the final episode.  One of my all-time favorite groups. 

My only warning is Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” will become an earworm that will stay in your head for days.

I recommend RUSSIAN DOLL, which could have also been called YOU ONLY LIVE 17 TIMES.

26 comments :

RyderDA said...

A bit reminiscent of DEAD LIKE ME, the ultimate in quirky topics for comedy (grim reapers collecting souls from the 3-10 people who die each episode). You would think there are only a few ways to die, but you would be wrong. And you would think you can't treat people dying each episode with humour from the slapstick to the subtle, but you can. And the characters who made up the series made it happen; weird but real, flawed but honest, devious but loyal, sarcastic but sweet.

Jamie T said...

Hi Ken

A Friday Question for you:

YouTube is chock full of clips of brawls breaking out in Major League Baseball games (some posted by MLB itself). They get tons of views.

The announcers for the games do a dance between excitedly calling the action (who hit who, who threw a good punch, etc.) and dutifully expressing their dismay (the fight is ruining a good game, etc.).

There's no question that a fight can be an exciting departure from the normal activity of a game, and I'm sure everyone knows it will show up on the nightly news and sports shows (though I doubt it drives ratings in the moment because it's so unpredictable and short-lived). But, of course, nobody wants MLB to turn into the NHL.

As an announcer, did you ever have to call a brawl? Whether or not you had to do it, what would your feeling be in the moment? Are you kind of excited by the action? Are you annoyed? Does the league/network/local management give any guidance on how they want you to call it?

Frank Beans said...

I'll see your trepidation and raise you one big groan of dread. The premise sounds awful, like a self-indulgent vanity project. Something I would want to avoid at all costs.

HOWEVER

On your recommendation alone, I will give it a chance. I hope it surprises me too. Bit my biggest bias going in is that I know that so many new shows try to hook audiences in with a premise that simply cannot sustain or justify repeated watching. "Style over substance" is putting it mildly, and even missing the point, because I like style. But if a film or television series has me saying, "Ok got it already" by 15 minutes in, I know that it's going to be a waste of time.

I hope that doesn't sound shallow. I realize some people could say that about practically anything, and that writers and actors gotta work. If it has genuine heart and wit, like the best shows have always had, it has merit. But man, I just have not seen much of it in the past decade or so outside of late-night comedy monologues.

Rob said...

Meh. I watched the first episode and thought it was a bore. No reason at all for me to watch another episode. Also, I found the lead character totally unlikable, not someone I wanted to spend any more time with. Same with all the characters, really.

Sheila said...

Just listened to your podcast. It was great as always Ken.

I was seeing the In Memoriam video and saw Sandra Locke. What a sad life she led.

For anyone interested please read this. How Clint Eastwood and Hollywood destroyed her life.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sondra-locke-death-obituary-clint-eastwood-overshadowed-age-a8711871.html

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/12/sondra-locke-obit

https://www.whimn.com.au/talk/people/deeply-disturbing-obituary-for-actress-sondra-locke-leaves-fans-fuming/news-story/765372e8a4d2f341554cb06d7e80dfa8

blinky said...

I like the way it lulls you into thinking everything is OK and then BAM you're dead!

KB said...

I gave it two episodes. I tried. I can only suspend my disbelief so much. Natasha Lyonne seemed to be doing a Andrew Dice Clay impression, and I couldn't take it anymore.

Robert Freedman said...

My wife and I watched a few episodes and then decided to start over and binge the whole series one rainy afternoon...love it and can't wait for season 2'

Steve B. said...

Meh as well. I found the whole endeavor boring and repetitive - and not particularly funny Hated most of the characters. I stuck with it because of all the good buzz, but found the payoff underwhelming. I'd rather just watch "Groundhog Day" again - the same conceit, more entertaining, more of a point to it and 2 hours shorter.

Brian said...

I also enjoyed Russian Doll. It took a couple of episodes to get into it, but I was happy where the story went.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Here's an idea for a show, "Russian Blow-up Doll." It would be an anthology series in the vain of "Dead Man's Gun." Everyone who has "contact" with her/it has some bizarre experience that teaches them some sort of lesson; positive or negative. The hook, (spoiler alert) The doll is actually collecting information on U.S. citizens that is then sent to Vladimir Putin for his ongoing attempt to destroy America.
M.B.

Jahn Ghalt said...

This “resurrection device” is very similar to that used in To Your Scattered Bodies Go published 1971 by Philip José Farmer. “Scattered” goes farther. Premise is that everyone on Earth has been (and continues to be) resurrected on “Riverworld”.

Frankipop said...

Haha, her character even describes herself as the lovechild of Andrew Dice Clay and the girl from ‘Brave’...

Peter said...

I'll watch this, but I feel it necessary to fly the flag for Happy Death Day in 2017, a wonderful comedy slasher about a college girl who keeps reliving the same day in which she's murdered and has to find out who her killer is in order to stop the loop. The sequel is pretty good too.

Lemuel said...

Kinda like the TWILIGHT ZONE with Jack Klugman as a domineering space captain who insists they go over the wreck again and again.

David G. Whitham said...

“Natasha Luonne played the crap out Olof that character”

Perfectly said. I hope she gets nominated for this.

I figured I could watch a couple of episodes at a time, and string it out for a few days. Nope. I swallowed all of it in one sitting. I was a bit disappointed with the end, though.

TimWarp said...

Just started watching this on the train home last night (trains have wifi now, who knew?!) and am a couple of episodes in. Looking forward to the rest of them!

Happy Death Day is a comedy? From the trailers I thought just another godawful gorefest. May check it out now.

Peter said...

TimWarp

It's hilarious and clever. There's a bit of violence but rather tame compared to most slashers. Normally I'd be annoyed, as I love gory slasher movies, but it's just so witty and fresh, I didn't mind the lack of gore!

Pete Grossman said...

Yeah! Wild show! Also liked that "Alone Again Or" was used in the end. Love that song. The horn in the bridge of the piece is just sweet. Gotta believe the Moody Blues took their cue from these guys to transition from rock 'n roll into the cosmic.

Dr Loser said...

You sold me on the Wile E Coyote reference, Ken. I need, desperately, to see this show.

Cooper said...

Ken, have you followed this news - does it give you hope for better content in the future and more opportunities for writers/creative people in the industry? (When are we going to read about you cashing in?)
https://www.fastcompany.com/90307854/400-million-and-counting-inside-netflixs-arms-race-for-tv-showrunners

TimWarp said...

Finished binging yesterday. Despite screaming NO NO NO (in my head) at the climax, I loved the ending, and am curious to see what they're going to do with Season 2.

rchesson said...

Hi Ken,

I have a new Netfilx offering I think you will like. DERRY GIRLS, a Britt production following several misfit girls (and one guy) in 80's Londonderry, Ireland. Great writing, acting and production. Just 6 1/2 hour episodes. Very fresh and funny.

blogward said...

What's also good about 'Russian Doll' is its unselfconscious ethnic and gender diversity. People in it are gay or non-WASP simply because that's who they are.

MikeKPa. said...

Watching this was like watching the last two seasons of TRUE DETECTIVE, I slogged through it, hoping it would get better, but it didn't. I finally quit midway through Episode 6. Natasha Lyonne character's grating personalty is quirky, at first, but wears you down to the point of annoyance over time. In the end I just didn't care about the characters or what happened to them.

slgc said...

My husband and I are watching this on your recommendaton and we're enjoying it very much. Thanks for the post!