With philosophical concepts and a badass female lead, Russian Doll promotes a message society should listen to.
If you haven’t seen Netflix’s latest offering, Russian Doll, I’d recommend grabbing your favourite snacks and getting cosy. Episodes are 30 minutes long, making the programme perfect for binge-watching.
Russian Doll is the all-female written, all female directed show with the trifecta of Amy Poehler (Mean Girls) Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) and Leslyle Headland (Bachelorette) at its helm. The show is a perfect case study of why, in an industry dominated by white male writers and directors, more diversity is needed in the writer’s room.
Russian Doll’s leading lady, Natasha Lyonne, is the incredibly funny. Natasha plays Nadia Vulvokov. Nadia is selfish, crude, outspoken, laugh out loud hilarious, and generally not a very good person. In one scene, her own best friend describes her by saying,
“I love that you’re a c***. It makes me feel morally superior.”
Nadia with her long list of bad habits such as chainsmoking cigarettes, drinking like a sailor, and taking recreational drugs, including ketamine at christenings, is a far cry from the majority of leading ladies we are used to seeing on screen. However, her shortcomings are also what makes her one of the greatest leading ladies of recent times.
In an industry where many female characters are written by males, it is too often we see female characters potrayed unrealisticlly. Usually supermodel gorgeous, these sickly, likable and untainably flawless female leads tend to breeze through any obstacles the plot throws at them. These characters, written by men, represents a male’s ideal take on a woman, rather than represent what being a woman actually is.
Between the unrealistic portrayal of women in the film and tv industry, and in the superficial, selfie-obsessed age of Instagram, there is more pressure than ever for women to portray themselves in a certain light. It is no wonder that 1 in 5 women in England struggle with mental health disorders, according to research carried out by the NHS.
And this is why Nadia Vulvokov, with her potty mouth and laissez faire about sex and relationships, is so refreshing! She drinks too much, she smokes too much and she doesn’t have her life figured out. And in a society where the media shame a 20-year-old woman (Malia Obama) for enjoying a glass of wine on vacation, she is far from what society deems a woman should be. She is also immensely relatable!
When confronted about her morally conflicted behaviour, Nadia sarcastically responds,
“What is a bad person? There is Hitler, and there’s everybody else.”
You’d be forgiven if you rolled your eyes at the premise of Russian doll. The concept, at first glance, feels a little overdone. Nadia is hit by a car, which results in her death, on the night of her 36th birthday. She is then forced to live the night of her birthday party over and over again.
Despite the groundhog day concept, the show tackles issues and themes such as spirituality, consciousness, philosophy, and mental health.
By being forced to relive the same party over and over, Nadia is forced to acknowledge the self-destructive behaviors she repeats. To break the cycle of dying, Nadia must explore the layers of her consciousness (hence the title Russian Doll) in order to overcome a childhood trauma that defines her. By overcoming this trauma, Nadia can begin to heal and break self-destructive patterns, therefore breaking the groundhog day cycle.
As someone who has struggled with letting go of their own trauma from the past, watching Russian Doll felt a bit like therapy. It reminded me of the importance of self-care, and the impacts of holding onto negative emotions. Equally as important, the show reminded me to be less judgmental of others. Despite how a person may portray themselves on the outside, we never know what struggles they may have within. We are all humans on our own journey, and can all be helped along our paths by showing each other a little more kindness.
It is refreshing to see a female lead a storyline that doesn’t involve motherhood, or finding romance or climbing the career ladder. Long after the credits roll on Russian Doll, the characters and the premise of the show linger in your mind, causing you to ruminate on the concepts explored.
The final result of Russian Doll is a hilarious, yet deeply moving masterpiece. The show was a hit with Netflix viewers, and critics, and has an impressive score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hopefully, Hollywood takes note, and we will be seeing more beautifully flawed female protagonists, with interesting plotlines that explore matters that matter, rather than the cliche storylines we are tired of.