Russian Doll: Season 1 created by Leslye Headland, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Poehler (Netflix, 3 Arts Entertainment, Jax Media)
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Bennett, Greta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson, Jeremy Bobb, and Dascha Polanco.
Art and Culture
It’s always fascinating to map the thematic elements of art to the culture in which it’s created. Post-apocalyptic stories rose to prominence after the atomic bomb and constant conflict during the Cold War. Stories about terrorism and doing the hard-but-right thing, i.e., 24, happened after 9/11.
Today, we have hopepunk. Whether in song or on stage, the creative focus of the day seems to have an eye for an optimistic future, something toward which we should all work; and verily, fight tooth and nail for it. And yet, this vocation comes with the punk aesthetic. It says: we can be better than we are and we’ll break things to get there.
Nothing feels more hopepunk to me in this moment than Frank Turner’s Be More Kind. Rough around the edges, Turner’s music has clear influences in the punk scene, and yet the polish in his production and the topics about which he sings provide hope and a desire to work toward social change.
Russian Doll as a hopepunk masterpiece
Similarly, Russian Doll takes a concept one might consider easy picking for the nihilistic among us and instills a radical dose of positivity. Pretty hopepunk if you ask me.
The story begins in a bathroom, soundtracked by Harry Nilsson. Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) prepares for a night of revelry as she celebrates her 36th birthday. Self-centered, she doesn’t even take a second to consider the occasion and the hard work her friends have put into this party. Instead, drug ingestion and hook ups define the evening.
What happens next is a big spoiler, so don’t read on and go watch the series if you’re interested. But for those who have seen the show, midway through the pilot, Nadya dies quite suddenly.
And back to the bathroom she goes; the Harry Nilsson coda repeats. And within the pilot, this morbid-yet-funny Groundhog Day narrative begins.
To Russian Doll’s credit, it’s hard to imagine stretching this premise to a full season of television. And yet, the writers offer masterfully plotted and compelling television. Beneath this wacky premise lies a vibrant beating heart.
In true hopepunk fashion, Russian Doll suggests there’s something worth fighting for in this world. Instead of remaining in the nihilistic rut that might emerge from the endless repeat of days, Nadia fights. She seeks answers. She categorized and tests to see where the malware might lie.
For this reason, the final couple episodes pack an emotional punch, more so than one might expect from a dark comedy. And the reason? Hopepunk. So give Russian Doll a whirl and fight like hell to make the world a better place.