'Russian Doll' Season 2 Review: Natasha Lyonne Jump-Starts Time Travel Again For Netflix Dramedy
Coming back for a second season after more than three years? What a concept! Well, maybe people are still Hungary for one. Russian Doll, from showrunners Leslye Headland, Amy Poehler and Natasha Lyonne (who also directs and stars in the show), is yet on another hunt for screwed up time loops after saving lives of Nadia (Lyonne) and fellow time traveller Alan (Charlie Barnett) in the first season. Four healthy years have passed since then, letting Nadia and Alan live normal lives just like rest of humanity also experiences them. However, lots of things can happen in New York City's subway system, like Nadia discovering a new time portal on a specific line that transports her to past decades. After informing Alan that this is possible, they will eventually need to work together to find a way out once glitches begin to appear during their journeys.
After ending the first season on such a high note, it's undoubtably risky to go back and think about new paths for the characters considering that it ended up feeling like it could've been a pretty self-sufficient limited series. While encountering speed bumps elsewhere, the filmmaking behind the show does take a major step up in its second run, which makes an exciting watch for breezy seven episodes. When presenting the time loop scenario first time around, first few episodes definitely started to feel repetitive but now editor Todd Downing and Lyonne—directing first episode of this season—manage to break out of that formula immediately to more energetic pastures. Smooth transitions between timelines, as happening in the trains, are also combined with more intense dolly moves and zooms by DoP Ula Pontikos that help the viewer make sense of time, place and intention in this fast-moving story.
It's in that story department where Russian Doll shows less inventiveness since it's thematically sailing the very same waters as before. Characters' family histories are explored, like with an inclusion of Annie Murphy's character (deemed too spoiler-y for now) and Chloë Sevigny's return as Nadia's mom Lenora, but it's still very much Nadia and Alan working together again to save themselves. There's a little caveat to that, though, because their historic missteps are more self-inflicted and so are then the consequences, which make the emotional punches land rather softly even when they're supposed to hit you hard. Faults in writing have more to do with the bigger picture as the dialogue particularly does actually hit its comedic marks stronger this season; you'd just wish that the show would've shown three years worth of growth otherwise since Lyonne and Barnett's performances do actually reflect that by themselves.
Smileys: Editing, dialogue
[Editor's note: Citing spoiler reasons, Netflix asked not to talk about specific years that characters visit or certain character moments. This makes talking about elements like costume design, makeup, hairstyling, VFX and production design quite difficult (even vaguely), which is not preferred.]