Russian Doll is a show about two people who are “dying all the time” in every sense of the phrase. As co-protagonists Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) and Alan Zaveri (Charlie Barnett) each fight grueling emotional battles, they also literally die, expiring and respawning over and over again like characters in a videogame. When Nadia and Alan meet and discover that they're dying at the same time, they become uneasy partners in trying to game the loop that dominates their lives—or rather their deaths. In foregrounding the interracial, (mostly) platonic, queer-tinged connection that results from entrapping two survivors of distinct historical and psychological traumas in a recursive loop, Russian Doll evokes what José Muñoz called “brown feeling”—an affectively and politically depressive position that holds a transformative potential. It is, in fact, Russian Doll's enactment of the depressive position that makes the show so uplifting despite its devastating subject matter.
Alone Again Tonight: Russian Doll
Sarah Kessler is completing a monograph, Anachronism Effects: Ventriloquism and Popular Media and working on a collection of essays on binge-watching. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Brooklyn Rail, Camera Obscura, In These Times, Theory & Event, Triple Canopy, and elsewhere. She edits the TV section of Public Books and teaches at the University of Southern California.
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Sarah Kessler; Alone Again Tonight: Russian Doll. Film Quarterly 1 December 2019; 73 (2): 23–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2019.73.2.23
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