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'RUSSIAN DOLL': A manic time loop

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Déjà vu: that strange feeling you’ve seen this before.

Netflix’s latest release, “Russian Doll,” created by Natasha Lyonne along with SNL’s Amy Poehler, is a déjà vu experience every few minutes. Lyonne is that actress who has starred in just about everything (including 50 films) before becoming Nicky on “Orange is the New Black,” but you just couldn’t place her until then.

Now imagine the character Nicky somehow becomes a gaming software developer named Nadia who relives the same day over and over again. Yeah, it’s a premise well used. If you remember Bill Murray driving around with a groundhog at the steering wheel shouting, “Don’t drive angry,” then you probably have a sense of the manic energy of “Russian Doll.” While many will consider “Groundhog Day” to be the pinnacle of this romantic tale, Lyonne’s take on the story will give you whiplash.

Two people’s lives are intertwined until they find a way to change things to stop living the same day repeatedly. Their day isn’t just waking up to an alarm clock, but inevitably dying and waking up in the same bathroom the same time each day. No matter how the day is approached, death always comes, though not always in the same way. The deaths are comedic, sad, morose, depressing and everything in between.

Some may find the half-hour format to be jarring and it’s tempting to lose interest after the first episode. Don’t give up. Try to consider that the totality of eight episodes is just four hours, and you might look at “Russian Doll” as more of a long movie with extended breaks. The best part with this format is the range and depth as the story progresses. At first, it seems like a dream about a birthday party gone wrong, but by the end of the first episode the hunt is on for why this is happening.

Lyonne’s character, Nadia, is a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking, dry-witted drug user with near genius potential (sound familiar? A bit like Nicky, perhaps?). But she is not without a soul, and her caring for others shines on through, just not immediately. Your first glimpse of this is her reaction to finding her lost cat, Oatmeal. But soon Oatmeal disappears, quite literally. Nadia carries on and her concern gravitates elsewhere, and by the fourth episode she meets someone going through the day in the same way she is. Right before they both die again.

After dying 15 times (she counts each death), Nadia finally finds the man sharing her fate, Charlie, who is quite the opposite of her in so many ways. She is rude, he is polite. She is a drug user, he is a clean freak. And so on. So, the question becomes, why them? Why does this happen to them and no one else? What causes the problem? How do they fix it?

Each begins the task of deep soul searching and confronts their own pasts. That will still not be enough. Before too long, everything shrinks, and the danger will be in survival. And that will still not be enough. By the time the end is reached, love finds a way, and the stories finally merge and diverge. When it does, it is a beautiful transition.

Déjà vu: that strange sensation you’ve done this before.

It may seem like déjà vu when watching “Russian Doll,” but it’s not what you think. It’s not just a romantic comedy, but a manic time loop you can’t help but get caught up in.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

Natasha Lyonne in 'Russian Doll.'
'Russian Doll'