Russian Doll doesn’t let its unoriginality get in the way of delivering an entertaining, affecting tale; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend bids farewell with a season that manages to recapture many of the show’s strengths.
Russian Doll – Season One***1/2
*ing: Natasha Lyonne, Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, Charlie Barnett, and Elizabeth Ashley
Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland
It may not have the most original premise, but the Netflix series Russian Doll doesn’t let its unoriginality get in the way of delivering an entertaining, affecting tale.
Darkly amusing and touchingly poignant, the web series follows the story of a woman who is stuck in a time loop, repeatedly reliving the same night.
The protagonist is Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), a software engineer celebrating her 36th birthday at a party thrown by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee). She eventually ends up wandering the streets, searching for her missing cat Oatmeal, but gets hit by a car and dies, only to find herself back at her birthday party, with everyone around her oblivious to her predicament.
No matter how she navigates the evening, all arcs end in her death, and all deaths lead her back to the same party, leaving her to relive a different version of the same night over and over again.
A new player enters the tale a few instalments into the first season’s eight-episode run, giving the show another curious element to work with.
The series charms viewers from the very start, but initially it does struggle to differentiate itself in a well-worn subgenre. Time loops are a mechanism that has been repeatedly used in Hollywood outings ranging from the comedic Groundhog Day to the action-packed Edge of Tomorrow. Russian Doll especially can’t escape comparisons to the Happy Death Day franchise, wherein a woman is stuck in a time loop on her birthday.
There aren’t any shocking twists here, but ultimately where Russian Doll emphatically excels is in its interesting, impactful take on childhood trauma, grief, addiction, and mental health.
The basic storyline itself may be familiar, but how things unfold is still entertaining. There is emotional weight behind the story which makes it easy to invest in the fate of the snarky protagonist. And it’s this combination of dark wit and emotional resonance that ultimately makes Russian Doll a worthy addition to Netflix’s impressive roster.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Season Four***1/2
*ing: Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, Donna Lynne Champlin, Pete Gardner, Vella Lovell, Gabrielle Ruiz, Scott Michael Foster, and Skylar Astin
Created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna
After entertaining us with its unique wit for nearly four years, The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has bid farewell with a charming fourth season that manages to recapture many of the show’s strengths, but also takes an unexpected casting turn.
The musical comedy drama - which tells the story of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a lawyer who, after a chance encounter with a childhood boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), leaves her prestigious job in NYC to move to his small town - arrived like a breath of fresh air in 2015, and quickly established itself as a bold, offbeat comedy unafraid of broaching complex topics.
As the fourth season rolled around, we found Rebecca dealing with the consequences of pleading guilty to attempted murder at the end of the previous season, and subsequently trying to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, with a little help from her friends Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), Heather (Vella Lovell), and Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz).
A chunk of the season finds her torn between her feelings for Josh, Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), and Greg (Skylar Astin), as she tries to choose between the three.
The choice she eventually makes, while in keeping with the show’s themes, is not as inventive as it could have been. Plus it’s the recasting of one of her love interests that doesn’t work quite as well as the show would have hoped. Originally portrayed by Santino Fontana who left the program in season two, Greg is brought back here with Skylar Astin playing the character. The series takes this recasting as an opportunity to comment on how we sometimes see people differently, but while Astin isn’t bad in the role, he can’t quite match Fontana’s performance, and it simply isn’t very satisfying to not have the original actor reprise the role and wind up his character’s arc.
What makes season four special though is the continued development of its characters, many of whom - especially Nathaniel - show considerable growth. The comments on mental health and female camaraderie remain as rewarding as ever in the series. And, as always, there are memorable musical moments aplenty here, guaranteed to please fans.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been a terrific showcase for the writing, acting, songwriting, and singing talents of Rachel Bloom, and as we say goodbye to her first television project, we can’t wait to see what she does next.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection