And that, finally, I will not spoil.
A party is the right place to meet Nadia. She’s a gregarious loner, warmly embracing her boho friends but allergic to any long-term attachment or dependence. She keeps a still-devoted former lover (Yul Vazquez) at arm’s length. Her longest-running relationships are with Ruth (Elizabeth Ashley), a family friend and therapist, and Oatmeal, the cat whose custody she shares with a local bodega. Like Nadia, Oatmeal likes to keep things open-ended.
Lyonne created “Russian Doll” with Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler, and it’s a terrific match of performer and character. Lyonne’s throaty rasp sounds like a cigarette would if it could talk, but she also has a presence and an impish spark that cuts Nadia’s cynicism. She’s both ancient and brand-new, or as Nadia describes herself, “like if Andrew Dice Clay and the little girl from ‘Brave’ made a baby.”
When Nadia first dies and comes back to life, she suspects it may be a bad drug trip. When it happens again — well, kill me once, shame on you. Nadia, a video game programmer by trade, approaches her Groundhog Night dilemma accordingly. To break the loop, she needs to figure out the rules by which this recurring game works. Then she needs to debug it, and thus herself.
Life, Nadia discovers, is a very complex program, and her attempts to relive it take on a different cast from the romantic comedy of “Groundhog Day.” “Russian Doll” is more a detective story, with elements of slapstick, sci-fi and even horror. She’s not trying to mechanically create the perfect day so much as to, per the title, delve through her concentric shells and find her kernel.
If you watched, and I use the term loosely, Netflix’s interactive “Black Mirror” fiction “Bandersnatch,” you will recognize a parallel. That story too was about a game programmer, and it invited the viewer to send him down different life pathways — many of which ended with him dead — before starting over.