Netflix Review – Russian Doll: A New Take on Groundhog Day (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland bring you this story of a woman who can’t stop dying.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) is a 36 year old software engineer who hooks up with a guy named Mike (Jeremy Lowell Bobb) at her birthday party hosted by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) and attended by Lizzy (Rebecca Henderson), Nadia’s friend, and Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), Nadia’s surrogate mother. Later that night, while trying to find her missing cat, Nadia is hit by a car and dies.

RussianDoll - 1Bathroom
However, her hair is unaffected.

She awakes back at the same birthday party. She finds out that she is now on fate’s hit list. Every cycle, within a few hours to a few days, she dies somehow (usually violently) and restarts at the same time at the party. She works to figure out exactly what it is that she needs to do to move on with her life.

RussianDoll - 2.jpg
However, she does not learn how to look where she’s going.

END SUMMARY

So, as I pointed out in my list of 5 (really 7) Groundhog Day episodes of television, there are a LOT of TV shows and films that use the mechanic of one person re-living the same experience over and over again. Groundhog Day isn’t the first, but it’s probably the most famous because of how well that movie portrayed the cycle, with it always being one day, whether Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors lived to the end of it, but others have played with the length of the loop or the mechanics of remembering. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) was basically the first-person-shooter video game situation played out through a movie. ARQ was about loops where multiple people can remember the loop. Run Lola Run allowed the rebooted Lola’s previous lives to physically impact the next run. Doctor Strange uses a time-loop to force a deity-level threat to give up trying to take over Earth. Happy Death Day puts a survivor girl in a slasher film in a position to get killed repeatedly while trying to figure out how to beat the killer. It’s a fairly used trope, to say the least, which is why it’s good that this TV show manages to make the show more about the characters, particularly Nadia, rather than about the mechanism itself, one of the things that Groundhog Day excelled in. Also, it manages to not mention a single one of the above movies, but doesn’t make it obvious that they’re NOT mentioning them, so you don’t really think about it.

RussianDoll - 5Friends
Her friends are usually drunk when she starts the loop.

The first few episodes, as you’d expect, are mostly Nadia trying to figure out what’s happening. While she doesn’t immediately jump to “I’m in a time loop,” the exploration period actually doesn’t feel too long, because she thinks of more rational explanations like “I’ve been drugged” or “I’m going crazy” before she hits “Space-time continuum rip” or whatever. After that, it’s about trying to stop the loops. It gives the season enough variety to not feel overly repetitive, even for a show that’s literally about repeating things.

RussianDoll - 4Drugs
To be fair, she does do drugs.

The acting and writing are both amazing, with full credit to Lyonne for doing both at different points, including doing the script for the excellent season finale. Her performance conveys her feelings of uncertainty, both about her life and about the loops, while also putting forth her insecurities and inner strength. She’s a real person, though not a genre savvy one, being found in a crazy situation. Her interactions with her co-stars, particularly Charlie Barnett’s Alan Zaveri, are all excellent and each connection fleshes the character out further.

RussianDoll - 3Elevator
Chemistry… just a weird kind.

Overall, this is a solid show. It just keeps getting better with more elements added until the great ending. Cinematography, acting, writing, and direction are all top notch. Give it a try. Speaking of endings, however, that brings us to the…

****SPOILERS****

If you’ve seen the show, you know that eventually Nadia runs into Alan Zaveri, another person who is reliving the loops, in fact looping at the same time as Nadia. Alan is revealed to have killed himself out of despair at the same moment that Nadia was killed by the car during her first loop. We then watch the loops start to degrade, with the universe going away, until finally Nadia lets go of her past guilt over leaving her Mother (Chloe Sevigny) who ended up dying and Alan gives up pursuing Beatrice (Dascha Polanco), his girlfriend of 9 years who has been the focus of much of his life. After both of them finally get past their hangups, they find out that they have looped again… but separately. There are now two universes: One in which Nadia remembers Alan and another where Alan remembers Nadia, and each of them now has to save the other. So, what happened?

RussianDoll - 6Split
Mirroring is a thing in the show.

Well, the show doesn’t definitively say it, but the leads to propose an idea and I think the narrative reinforces it: Both of them were supposed to be saved. Nadia was supposed to save Alan, which would lead to her not being killed by the car. Instead, because Nadia was having a crisis over her birthday (due to it being the age her mom died), she made a different, self-destructive choice. Alternatively, Alan should have kept Nadia from sleeping with Mike, which would have saved her life, but instead Alan chose to wallow in despair and kill himself. When each of them manages to truly move past what’s keeping them stuck in the past, time finally resets. If you’re wondering why it’s degrading, I think it’s the universe’s way of saying that they either need to move forward or the deaths will just stick. Nadia’s takes longer, because it’s harder for her to move past, which is why her last few deaths are more graphic than Alan’s.

RussianDoll - 7Glass.png
Particularly this one.

However, while both of them are now the kind of people who can save the other, they’re no longer the kind of people that need saving. In other words, they’d be violating causality if they reset together, so the universe solves the problem by splitting them into two different worlds: One with the old Alan and the new Nadia, another with it the other way around. Then, we watch the worlds play out, finally seeming to merge in the last scene, with everything the way that it was supposed to be.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

 

 

Greatest Valentine’s Day Episodes

Okay, so, I’m going to die alone, but for those of you who aren’t, here’s a list of some of the best Valentine’s Day episodes of TV. Or, really, just the first 5 episodes I could think of that were good. I didn’t think of this until Monday, so cut me a break.

Runner Up: Galentine’s Day (Parks and Rec)

Why is this a runner up? Because it’s not a V-day episode…  and although most of it takes place at a Valentine’s Dance, it’s mostly about breakups.

ValentinesParksAndRec

Galentine’s Day is the 13th of February, and it’s a holiday made up by Pawnee, Indiana resident Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) to celebrate strong, independent women. Leslie’s widowed mother, Marlene (Pamela Reed), a guest at the Galentine’s celebration, tells the story of her first love, a lifeguard she met years before she met Leslie’s father, with whom she had a passionate affair before her parents made her break it off.

ValentinesGalentinesLeslie, with encouragement from Justin (Justin Theroux), a man she’s been dating, goes to find the lifeguard and reunite the lovers after all these years. Unfortunately, while Marlene grew up to be a civic leader, the lifeguard, Frank (John Larroquette), is just a barrel full of problems. He’s immature, unsophisticated, unemployed, and just generally is the worst. Marlene understandably wants nothing to do with him.

This leads Leslie to realize she doesn’t really like Justin. Meanwhile, her co-workers’ relationships are similarly dissolving. Tom (Aziz Ansari) is rejected by his ex-wife. April (Aubrey Plaza) breaks up with her boyfriend and his boyfriend. Ann (Rashida Jones) and Mark (Paul Schneider) are still together, but it’s clear Ann is looking to get out of the relationship… which leads Mark to get out of the show.

Message received: Love is a lie and everyone dies alone. Happy Galentine’s Day!!!

5) Operation Ann (Parks and Rec)

Okay, I had to make it up to Parks and Rec, both for lambasting Galentine’s Day and for not ever finding an episode of the show quite remarkable enough to get onto this list, despite how much I like the show.

Here’s the thing about Parks and Rec: Every single couple at the end of the show is basically perfect.

April and Andy (Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt), Leslie and Ben (Amy Poehler and Adam Scott), Ann and Chris (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe), Tom and Lucy (Aziz Ansari and Natalie Morales), Donna and Joe (Retta and Keegan-Michael Key), Garry and Gayle (Jim O’Heir and Christie Brinkley), Ron and Diane (Nick Offerman and Lucy Lawless), even Craig and Typhoon (Billy Eichner and Rodney To). All of them are amazing. Which is why it’s so great to see where some of these relationships start to develop.

ValentinesBenLeslie.gifThis episode starts with Leslie having her first V-Day with a serious boyfriend, Ben. She makes an overly-elaborate series of puzzles involving multiple riddles that range from “weird” to “punishingly difficult.” Even Leslie admits, at one point, that it’s probably impossible for Ben to actually solve them all. In desperation, Ben asks Ron and Andy for help. Along the way, Ben finds out that Ron actually loves puzzles and riddles, despite his earlier objections to them. In the end, Ron intuits the final solution to Leslie’s riddle, saving Ben.

valentinesanntom.jpgMeanwhile, Leslie asks the office to help find a boyfriend for Ann, who is somehow single despite being sweet, smart, and looking like Rashida Jones (it actually gets explained later that she has some issues). At the same time, Chris, the perpetual optimist, is depressed because he has been dumped by his most recent girlfriend. At the end of the episode, Ann ends up hanging out with Tom, which proves to be a horrible mistake, and Chris realizes that he’s only single because he broke up with Ann for basically no reason aside from location. This leaves both of them in the position to get back together in the future, after they both grow a little bit.

Also, April and Andy are together, and they’re perfect, and I love them.ValentinesAprilAndy.jpg

 4) Anna Howard Shaw Day (30 Rock)

Much like Parks and Rec, even though I love this show it never made it onto the list. Only 2 episodes got nominated, and this is… not one of them, but it’s a natural fit to put it here. Too bad I don’t have a Leap Day list.

Valentines30Rock.jpg30 Rock is a show about putting on an SNL-like show called “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” which is filmed at NBC headquarters located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

30 Rock doesn’t have the perfect ending for everyone, but it has a solid happy ending for most of the characters. It also points out that, even if you don’t find love in another person, you can find it in your friends and family.

ValentinesLizLemon.gifAt the beginning of this episode, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) has set a root canal on Valentine’s Day, which she calls “Anna Howard Shaw Day” after the female civil rights leader born on Feb. 14, but discovers that everyone else has plans and thus she has no one who can drive her home while she’s under anesthesia. At the same time, her boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), meets Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), the ultra-conservative woman of his dreams. Jack tries to woo her, including planning a celebrity party where he invites Jon Bon Jovi (Music Guy), but ends up snubbing him because he’s interested in what she’s saying. Naturally, they bang, and agree to go out again on V-day. On Valentine’s Day, Liz gets her root canal, telling the dental staff that she’ll be fine to go home. On the way out, however, Liz hallucinates that the nurses are her ex-boyfriends, leading the staff to call Jack to help. Jack agrees, but Avery assumes that it’s just an excuse to dump her after they’ve had sex. Jack counters by offering to have her come along, which impresses Avery even more with his kindness. Liz passes out, but at least she knows she has a friend.

At the same time, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) is depressed because her stalker appears to have lost interest in her. Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) is confused as to why she’s upset that her stalker has moved on, only for Jenna to tell Kenneth that her stalker is her longest relationship. Kenneth proceeds to send her threatening letters to show that he cares.

Basically, this episode reminds us that friendship is a kind of love, too.

ValentinesAnnaHowardShaw

 3) My Funky Valentine (Modern Family)

Modern Family was a show about how there are different, viable models of family structure than just the traditional Nuclear Family. It covered one family in three households.

Household 1 is the Dunphy family. Goofy dad Phil (Ty Burrell), his wife Claire (Julie Bowen), and their kids Haley, Alex, and Luke (Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould). Household 2 is the Pritchetts: Claire’s dad Jay (Ed O’Neill), his younger, hotter wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), Gloria’s son Manny (Rico Rodriguez), and their baby Joe (Jeremy McGuire). Household 3 is the Pritchett-Tuckers: Claire’s brother Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his husband Cam (Eric Stonestreet), and their daughter Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons).

valentinesmodernfamily-e1518492492912.jpg

This episode’s main focus is Phil and Claire. Phil has taken Claire to the same restaurant for most of their history together, so this year he decides to rent a hotel and have the two of them roleplay for the evening instead. Phil is Clive, a businessman, and Claire is Julianna, a housewife. As they flirt at the bar, Claire goes to the bathroom and removes all of her clothes, returning wearing just a coat. As they make their way up to the room, however, the coat gets caught in the escalator. Claire cannot get out of the coat withouthaving to run to the room naked, and multiple acquaintances keep showing up… all of whom just tell her to get out of the coat.

ValentinesClairePhil.jpg

Jay and Gloria go to a comedy club at the same hotel, which is fun until the comedian starts making fun of Jay’s age. They leave and run into Claire… who Gloria quickly helps, having realized the situation immediately, since apparently it had happened to her before. Claire and Phil go to their room… where it’s later revealed Phil screwed up the entire evening somehow by mis-using oil.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is depressed because he broke up his and Cam’s Valentine’s plans due to needing to work on a case, only for the client to settle, preventing Mitchell from delivering the best speech he’d ever written. Manny, who they’re watching while Jay and Gloria are out, is also depressed because he wrote a Valentine’s Day poem for a girl in his class, and another boy took credit for it. Manny and the couple go to the restaurant and confront the boy, with Mitch delivering a version of the speech he’d written. Unfortunately, the girl actually likes the other guy more, so Manny’s still single.

I love this episode because it emphasizes the show’s message of “every couple is different.”

2) Three Valentines (Frasier)

Already wrote this one, not doing it again. Still hilarious.

1) I Love Lisa (The Simpsons)

It probably says a lot that my number one pick is an episode about a girl taking pity on a boy, him taking it the wrong way, her having to break his heart, and them ending up friends… but, that’s for my therapist. Here’s the winner:

This episode is one of the best episodes of the Simpsons, and that’s saying something.

It’s Valentine’s Day in Springfield and Lisa’s class (Yeardley Smith) is giving Valentine’s ValentinesChooChooCards to each other. Unfortunately, Ralph Wiggum (Nancy Cartwright), who is not the brightest kid in the class… nor the most sanitary, doesn’t get a single card. Seeing him heartbroken, Lisa feels pity for him and gives him a card saying “I choo-choo-choose you.” This leads Ralph to fall in love with Lisa, who does not reciprocate. At all. This is made worse when Ralph and Lisa are picked to play George and Martha Washington in the school play.

Ralph’s father, Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria), gets them tickets to a Krusty the Clown Live show, which Lisa desperately wants to go to. Unfortunately, Krusty starts talking to the audience, leading Ralph to proclaim his love for Lisa on live TV… which Lisa responds to by telling him that “I don’t like you! I never liked you and the only reason I gave you that stupid valentine is because nobody else would!” Bart (Cartwright) later uses a recording of this to show Lisa the exact moment Ralph’s heart rips in half.ValentinesRalph

Ultimately, Lisa tries to apologize to Ralph for being cruel, but Ralph focuses on his role as George Washington, leading him to give a stellar performance and the interest of multiple new women. Lisa finally gives him an apology card with a bee on it, saying “Let’s Bee Friends.”ValentinesBeeFriends

This is an amazing episode, even if it’s a bit heartbreaking, because that’s really just how it is sometimes. The girl you like doesn’t like you back. The thing you thought was caring was just friendship. And that’s okay.