This story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Netflix’s “Russian Doll” tells the same story over and over and over again for the better part of the comedy’s eight-episode first season — and that’s what makes it interesting. The series, which stars Natasha Lyonne and was created by her, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, follows a woman named Nadia (Lyonne) who gets trapped in a time loop when she dies on the night of her birthday party.
The connection to the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” might seem obvious here — but it wasn’t to Headland, at first.
“To be quite honest, I never thought of ‘Groundhog Day’ in the initial pitch,” Headland said. “I thought of it much more as a funny ‘Edge of Tomorrow.’ Like, it’s a video game. She’s not reliving the same day or the same night — she just has the same restart point. And because I’m a gamer, I kind of approached it that way. It was only when we were in the writers’ room that we started to understand that these scenes were going to be constructed — especially in the first three episodes — the way that ‘Groundhog Day’ is constructed.”
However, Headland doesn’t mind if you make that comparison.
“I very rarely worry about a project being similar to another title,” she said. “I always assume my take on something is going to be more interesting than somebody else’s.” She laughed. “Like, I don’t think David Chase, when he was pitching ‘The Sopranos,’ was worried people were going to think it was ‘Analyze This.’ That’s how I felt about ‘Russian Doll.’ I was like, ‘This is going to be a new way of bingeing and a new way of sitting through an entire story for a Netflix audience. It isn’t based on the idea of episodic-viewing, but actually based in binge-viewing.'”
As to why audiences are drawn to time loops in the first place, for Headland it’s all about anxiety.
“I think what’s fun about a time loop or time travel movie [or show] is that you get to play out that anxiety, dramatically or comedically,” she said. “The best stories are ones that tap into the primal fear or urge to relive something or be able to fix the future. It just seems like such a human thing.”
Read more from the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.