Russian Doll was such a fizzy breath of fresh air when it premiered, with Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia getting stuck in a time loop and forced to relive her 36th birthday over and over again, that I wasn’t even sure I wanted it to come back for a second season. After all, TV shows that take a promising idea and run it into the ground can become like frustrating time loops themselves. But I’m happy to report that Season 2 of the Netflix comedy — premiering next Wednesday, April 20; I’ve seen all seven episodes — is a very worthy follow-up, finding a new time-tripping premise that recaptures the sci-fi fun of Season 1. Most importantly, though, it serves as a fantastic showcase for Lyonne, who once again delivers one of the best and funniest performances anywhere on TV.
We pick up four years later, with Nadia free from her time loop, preparing for her 40th birthday and playing caretaker to her ailing old pal Ruth. One night, she innocently gets on the subway and notices a poster for Sophie’s Choice and ads for Tab soda. What in the name of Ed Koch is going on around here? Eventually, Nadia figures it out: The subway has acted like a time machine, taking her back to they grimy old days of 1982 NYC and thrusting her into a complicated family saga that involves a stolen stash of gold Krugerrands and stretches back even decades further than that.
If Season 1 was like Groundhog Day, Season 2 is more like Quantum Leap meets Back to the Future, with unforeseen complications sending fresh ripples through the space-time continuum. There are extra wrinkles here that I can’t reveal, with Schitt’s Creek alum Annie Murphy joining the cast in a secret role and Nadia’s adventures extending all the way to Budapest. She also discovers that mysteries are a lot harder to solve without the Internet. (She has to consult a library’s card catalog!) She’s pretty chill about the whole thing, though — “Inexplicable things happening is my entire modus operandi,” she quips — and we get to enjoy unraveling the mystery along with her. Thankfully, this is an economical binge, too: seven half-hour episodes, which is a blessing these days.
More than anything, Season 2 is a reminder of how terrific Lyonne is as Nadia; it’s really one of the best comedic TV performances in recent years. She’s thoroughly entertaining here, fumbling her way through the 1980s with her distinctively raspy Noo Yawk accent while dropping hot stock tips and too-early Cheers references. Nearly every word that comes out of her mouth is funny, and even when there’s no one else in the scene with her, she mumbles funny things to herself. (Just listen to the way she says “cock-a-roach,” and savor it.) But Lyonne has genuinely poignant moments as well, as Nadia excavates layers of trauma and stares down the barrel of her own dark and twisted family legacy. Attention, Emmy voters: You nominated Lyonne last season, but she really deserves to take it home this year.
Russian Doll does lose a bit of steam whenever Lyonne isn’t on screen: Her fastidious time-loop companion Alan, played by Charlie Barnett, isn’t as compelling a protagonist as Nadia — but to be fair, no one is. And at first, I thought that maybe this season’s mystery was getting overly ambitious and convoluted, throwing all kinds of historical eras and locations at us. But the international time-travel shenanigans do lend a cosmic significance to Nadia’s story and allow for eye-popping set pieces like a supremely drugged-out European dance party, and it all ties together in the end in a supremely satisfying (and mind-blowing) finale. This show is truly a gift, and if Season 2 is any indication, it can keep on reinventing itself for years and years to come.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Netflix’s time-tripping comedy Russian Doll is just as good in Season 2, with an Emmy-worthy performance from Natasha Lyonne.