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‘Russian Doll’ Season 2 Review: Natasha Lyonne Returns to the 1980s

In its first incarnation, “Russian Doll” felt as close to the end as any TV show. With these first eight episodes, diving deep into the minds of jaded New Yorkers Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan (Charlie Barnett) and returning, creators Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland had achieved something truly heady, unnerving and spectacular. . It’s rare that a show is half as ambitious, or willing to throw itself at the wall again and again to see if it sticks, to find a way to wrap itself up satisfyingly. But this one did, in a finale as unforgettable as it was triumphant. And yet, three years later, here’s a season 2 for a show that once seemed to contain a miracle as perfectly as television ever has. Why should the series go back and spoil a story that already felt so complete?

It turns out that very question is at the heart of the improbable second season of “Russian Doll,” which will premiere on April 20. Nadia and Alan, I’ll do my best.

After the first season depicted a sort of brutal limbo in which Nadia and Alan can’t help but die and come back to life on his 36th birthday, the second opens just weeks away from his 40th. Materially, little seems to have changed: Nadia is still a chain smoker in the East Village; Maxine (Greta Lee) is still the art of daytime eye makeup; Alan still sticks to a strict schedule, but this time with a steady stream of blind dates. Even Horse (Brendon Sexton III), the Tompkins Square resident who once haunted Nadia’s many deaths, continues to linger on the periphery of her life. But Nadia’s godmother, Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), is also on the decline – and even if Nadia tries to pretend otherwise, time is running out.

It doesn’t take long for the extremely trippy arc of the season to reveal itself. This time, all it takes is a fateful subway train for Nadia and Alan to embark on wild and unexpected journeys into their own past. (Think “Quantum Leap,” if “Quantum Leap” was about intergenerational trauma.) With only 7 episodes to explore everything compared to last season’s 8, Alan’s arc is unfortunately shorter than Nadia’s. Luckily for Barnett, whose tender performance remains one of “Russian Doll’s” strongest assets, Alan nevertheless finds himself at the heart of the season, just when the show and Nadia need him most.

The lion’s share of the season sees Nadia learn what life was really like for her mentally ill mother (Chloë Sevigny), her Holocaust survivor grandmother (Irén Borán) and another character played by Annie Murphy. which I can’t describe at all until the show actually drops. Lyonne, even more in control of her on-screen avatar than she was in Season 1, is still completely magnetic as Nadia wanders around looking for answers about her family (which is, of course, based on that of Lyonne). Crucially, under the direction of Lyonne and Alex Buono, the second time Nadia falls down the rabbit hole takes on a completely different complexion than the first, though the two inevitably cross paths.

Without revealing the “how” of this season’s particular conceit, I will at least say that the “why” remains a scientific mystery, for which I am truly grateful. Maybe other “Russian Doll” fans would like to know what makes Nadia and Alan the unlikely bonds where time and space collide, but to borrow the words of Iris DeMent and “The Leftovers” , I prefer to let the mystery be and indulge in the ride. As Nadia herself says once she realizes she’s back in a thorny glitch in time and decides to toast him, rather than fight him: “When the universe fucks you , leave him.”

At the end of the season, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that this turn of the time and space continuum is just as focused as the first, or that its ending is just as viscerally rewarding – but that, it seems. , is more deliberate than not. Nadia’s unraveling of her family’s story ends up echoing the way “Russian Doll” ends up ripping out its own stitches: chaotically, greedily, curiously. By tracing her family’s lineage and traumas over the years, Nadia and the show both allow themselves to get messier than they ever thought possible following the conclusion of Season 1. What If the Show Was Determined to return to where it all began could have done far worse than making a mess of revisiting established truths.

Season 2 of “Russian Doll” premieres Wednesday, April 20 on Netflix.