To get trapped in a temporal glitch once is unfortunate. To get trapped in a temporal glitch twice is surely a sign that the cosmos knows exactly what it’s doing.
It’s also a sign that Netflix knows how to get more out of a cult hit. A second series of the trippy psychological comedy Russian Doll contrives a brand new metaphysical adventure for its heroine, sardonic New Yorker Nadia (Natasha Lyonne). Having eventually found a way out of a cycle that had her repeatedly reliving her 36th birthday in the previous season, Nadia has enjoyed a more normal, linear existence in the past few years. But when she gets on the Subway on the eve of her 40th, she notices that her carriage seems to belong to another era — and not in the way that London’s creaky Bakerloo Line does.
For one thing, everybody’s smoking. So far so good for the tobacco-stained, raspy-voiced Nadia. But the commuters also all sport retro attire and the posters advertise films released in 1982. It takes Nadia a moment or two longer than us to realise that she’s swapped her old Groundhog Day problem for a Back to the Future one.
Despite being new in the Eighties, Nadia already has somewhere to be and people to meet; a note in her pocket reveals that she has a rendezvous scheduled with someone called Chez. As she waits at a bar, she tells someone drunk enough to believe her about her unexpected time-travelling trip. “When the universe fucks with you, let it,” she says, adopting a commendably stoic mindset.
Chez (Sharlto Copley) turns out to be a small-time criminal and drug-pusher. Never one to miss an opportunity for some dissolute, self-sabotaging fun, Nadia follows him into the night. He, meanwhile, is absolutely convinced that she’s someone else; someone he knows intimately. Soon enough, she discovers why.
As with Russian Doll’s acclaimed first series, the sci-fi set-ups, ingenious twists and Nadia’s slightly grating world-weary schtick form the show’s outer layers. At its core, it’s still a story about recognising, and breaking out of, the cycles of guilt, self-loathing and denial that we can all get drawn into.
This new series delves even deeper into the roots of Nadia’s trauma, both as an individual who was raised by a mentally troubled mother, and more broadly as the descendent of Holocaust survivors. But after the first series achieved that rarest of feats — a truly neat and satisfying ending — this largely enjoyable new instalment feels just a little more jumbled, and a little less than necessary.
On Netflix now