Russian Doll, a hit Netflix comedy-drama web series is pretty much still the talk of the town despite having premiered in February 2019. Today we’ll delve into the inspiration behind the hit-series, Russian Doll. The plot of the series revolves around the protagonist, Nadia Vulvokov played by Natasha Lyonne, being caught in a time loop. Nadia happens to be at a party in New York City. She dies repeatedly but always ends up being ‘reincarnated’ at that same moment at the party. After every such episode, she tries to decipher why such an eerie event is happening to her. The series follows Nadia as she tries to solve this mystery. During her journey, she meets Alan Zaveri who happens to be experiencing the same eerie phenomenon but in a different context.
The premise of the show may sound familiar as many works of entertainment have actively explored the ‘stuck in a time loop’ story. This one, however, is no such ordinary series. It explores topics of great social impact such as drug consumption to name one and also has infinite layers. All of which is packed neatly into an 8 episode long series. Can you believe that?
Moreover, this production happens to be one of the few female dominant cast and crews in the industry. It is created by Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler and finds its roots in the lives of these women as well. Yes, more strength to women!
So what is the inspiration behind Russian Doll?
In the words of the lead in the series, “it is sort of an autobiography wrapped in a mind-bending concept”. Nadia, the game coder keeps reliving her 36th birthday, and below the entire commotion of solving the mystery lies the journey towards self-exploration. This journey towards rediscovering the self is a form of Natasha Lyonne’s personal life story. “I’m 100 percent in there and most definitely the architect of the whole thing. At the same time, the question became — how do we cloak it in something? It’s not a one-woman show, so what would be the most fun way to tell you this story?” shared Lyonne with The Hollywood Reporter.
There’s nothing better than directly asking the makers for the true inspiration behind Russian Doll. Lyonne also revealed, in another interview with Stephen Colbert that this brainchild of a series was in the making for about 7 years before it hit our screens. Elaborating more on its inception, Lyonne says, “Amy called me and said, ‘As long as I have known you, which is 15 years at this point, you’ve always been the oldest girl in the room’ — I couldn’t tell if that was an insult or a compliment, but I said, ‘Keep talking,'” Lyonne cracks. Then Poehler suggested, “What if we made a show about that?”
And Voila! We have a show on it now and I must add, an excellent one for that matter.
Lyonne also reveals that there were many aspects of the show that was borrowed from her personal life as well. For instance, the name of the protagonist is ‘Nadia’ which happens to be the name of Lyonne’s favourite gymnast from the ’80s. Moreover, the fictional character in the show Ruth happens to be inspired by Lyonne’s real-life godmother as well. The chain-smoking and various attributes in reel Ruth was very much derived from the real Ruth. Furthermore, there are a lot of ‘Old Soul’ connections here as well. Old Soul was a project that Amy and Natasha were working on at the beginning of their career but unfortunately, it never aired. There too the lead was named Nadia!
“I think that when ‘Old Soul’ sort of didn’t happen, I remember Amy turning to me and saying, ‘Hey, what’s the show that we really, really, want to make? If there were no rules or restrictions or networks around, what’s the thing that we really want to say here?'” recounted Lyonne about the show’s origins via the Insider.
It is true that Old Soul and Russian Doll do not have the same script or story, but the idea of a young woman finding her true self is a motif in both works. Let’s take a look at different aspects of Russian Doll and the inspiration that drove the makers to create a show as wonderful as this.
Adding to the case of the series being a vague adaptation of Lyonne’s personal life is the rather grim highlights of her life including a battle with drug addiction and a life-threatening hospital rendezvous in 2005 after a short period in Hollywood. Throughout the show, Nadia dwells on drugs and alcohol, usually after an emotionally draining confrontation that she tries to bury deep in the unconscious. Another interesting anecdote is that the same song “Gotta Get Up” is played every time Nadia’s life reboots after she dies. This too symbolizes the overall goal of the character rediscovering herself. Tough concepts such as emotional baggage, complexes, and trauma are also underlined in the series, making it even more humane and personal.
Headland also adds that the project was liberating in many ways for all three of them and that the end product of such artistic freedom was authenticity. “Your autobiographical or personal experience is going to seep through, just as a female person in the world,” says Headland of their collaborative process. “This would go for people of color and trans people and people of different sexual orientations, like myself, where you immediately start speaking from a place of, ‘This is my experience and this is what I see in the world, and this is how I experience the world.'” Shares Headland in yet another interview.
What else could be the inspiration?
Many films made in the past also explore the idea of reincarnation of this sort. The most obvious example here would be ‘The Groundhog’. It is evident that a lot of characteristics of the show were borrowed from here, but it is definitely more than just another riff off. Other movies such as ‘Happy Death Day’ and ‘The Good Place’ also explore such themes. In the Russian Doll, however, self-destructive behavior, linear and nonlinear conceptions of time, and morality are themes that are explored to a greater extent.
All in all, it is a must watch!
You can find the series on Netflix. Here is the teaser-trailer for the same: