How do you top perfection? That’s one of the many knotty questions that Russian Doll Season 2 attempts to tackle when it premieres on Netflix later this month. The first season of Russian Doll captivated audiences with its inventive concept, peculiar tone, and spectacular structure. It was a masterpiece, a perfect season of television. Naturally, Netflix renewed the series for a second season and at long last, Natasha Lyonne has delivered. But was Russian Doll Season 2 worth the wait? Does it live up to its tremendous first season? And has Lyonne managed to top herself?
When Russian Doll first premiered on Netflix back in 2019, it signaled the arrival of a bold new voice in television: Natasha Lyonne. The actress parlayed her unique sense of humor — dark, esoteric, quirky, and irrepressibly New York — into a single season of perfect television. Russian Doll Season 1 followed Lyonne’s Nadia Vulvokov, an East Village computer programmer doomed to relive her death over and over again. Nadia found herself trapped in a vicious loop where she would “wake up” in a bathroom during her 36th birthday party and then attempt to outlive an infinite amount of possible deaths. Eventually, Nadia meets Alan (Charlie Barnett), another person trapped in a similar cycle. They team up to set themselves free. The end of Russian Doll Season 1 ends with a gorgeous, life-affirming parade — and a conclusion to Nadia and Alan’s stories.
So where do Nadia and Alan go next? How does Natasha Lyonne reinvent her tightly structured fictional world for a second season? Well, it’s sort of tough to say. That’s because Netflix has requested that critics stay mum on everything from whom Schitt’s Creek star Annie Murphy plays in Russian Doll Season 2 to what the basic concept of the season is. According to the streaming giant, what I can tell you is that part of Russian Doll Season 2 takes place in the East Village in 1982 and that the team left New York City for a spell and shot in Europe. That’s it. There’s nothing more concrete that I can spill or even hint at in this review.
So with that being said, I feel like I can share that fans of Natasha Lyonne’s whole “deal” — her husky New York-accented voice, her penchant for quirky bon mots, her iconic way of holding a cigarette in her mouth — will be happy with Russian Doll Season 2. Lyonne leans hard into the idiosyncratic notes that made Nadia Vulvokov such a beloved character after Russian Doll‘s debut. So much so that there were times where I worried Lyonne’s performance went almost too hard, veering into a drag performance of herself. All the one-liners that became memes from Season 1 — “Sweet birthday baby,” “What a concept!” — return in some way or form. Russian Doll winks at its success, which is its prerogative, but sometimes at its own loss. Part of what made Russian Doll Season 1 so great was how unpredictable it was. Season 2 is still manic and surprising, but its self-reverence feels like a well-worn cliché: the show that retreads its hits out of rote.
Although I can’t reveal what Annie Murphy is doing in Russian Doll Season 2, I can share that she is great and rather (shockingly) under-used. Same goes for Rebecca Henderson’s Lizzy and Charlie Barnett’s Alan. (I honestly wanted more Alan! More Lizzie! More of Elizabeth Ashley’s Ruth!) The one Russian Doll star that does get to shine besides Lyonne in Season 2 is Greta Lee. After transforming one single line into a myriad of different laughs in Season 1, Lee’s Maxine is rewarded with the best jokes in the whole season. (I’m going to be laughing specifically about “I don’t need it, but it’s good to have. Like a driver’s license or a left hand” for a very long time.) Season 1 star Yul Vazquez doesn’t return in Season 2, but is replaced by Sharlto Copley, playing a sketchy con artist who collides with Nadia.
Russian Doll Season 2 is good, but it’s not quite as great as Russian Doll Season 1. This new season gets messy with its wild narrative swings and lazy with its logic. But Russian Doll is still effective as a vehicle for its creator and leading lady, Natasha Lyonne. Again, if you like Lyonne’s whole vibe, you will adore Russian Doll Season 2! If you’re hoping for Russian Doll to pull a Fleabag and somehow transcend its already celebrated first season, you might be disappointed. Lyonne still dazzles us with her wild take on humanity, but the narrative this season is a bit more muddled. A bit more messy. The way life so often is.
Russian Doll is still a strange journey into Natasha Lyonne’s imagination, though. Maybe that’s all it needs to be.
Russian Doll Season 2 premieres on Netflix on April 20.