It is hard to be ecstatic at the news that Russian Doll has been renewed for a second season. Not because the first season of Russian Doll wasn’t good enough to deserve one. The Netflix series was an absolute delight; a comedy-drama that took a Groundhog Day-like premise – a woman, Nadia, dies over and over again on her 36th birthday – and spun it into an entirely different beast, with original twists and thought-provoking musings on trauma and dealing with low self-worth.
Oh, and a final episode with a beautiful “choose your own meaning” day of the dead carnival and an affecting ode by Nadia (played by Natasha Lyonne) to her pet cat, Oatmeal: “Life is a fucking nightmare. Being a person is a fucking nightmare. And that is why I love this fucking guy.”
No, the reason to be disheartened about the renewal is that Russian Doll feels, well, complete: there is no cliffhanger, no clear direction for it to go in. Even though Lyonne said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that it was pitched to Netflix as a three-season show, and that they have ideas of where to take it, there is more than a little anxiety that the second season just won’t be able to cut through in the same way.
For evidence of how this second-season syndrome is borne out, look at the return of Killing Eve. The dynamic between Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in the first season couldn’t have been better, the cat-and-mouse game never losing its pace. But, at times, the new season just drags, as if it is trying to work out how to evolve into something else, while maintaining the dynamic that made it so successful.
The tone, too, has shifted with the switch of head writer from Phoebe Waller-Bridge to Emerald Fennell. There are still some funny lines (Villanelle’s response of: “No, of course not. Don’t be pathetic. Get a real life!” while being asked to be photographed by an Instagram influencer, for example), but I can’t help wonder whether, years down the line, the show would have been held in higher regard if it ended after one season. Perhaps with less of a cliffhanger ending, though.
Some shows are able to resist the lure of a second season. Take the HBO/Sky Atlantic miniseries Chernobyl, which ended earlier this month. It had only five episodes. Even though the plot wraps everything up, given the amount of critical acclaim it has received, it would be understandable if its creators tried to drag the show to head in a new direction – perhaps by evaluating another consequence of the explosion, or looking at another infamous disaster. However, Craig Mazin, the show’s writer and show-runner, has already tweeted that he will not be making any more. The five-parter is it. And, as a result, that five-parter will be remembered fondly because it was never diluted.
Often with TV, by trying to continue the drama beyond to reap more plot and airtime, you risk having an end that is weaker than its first two parts. It is happening with Killing Eve, it could happen with Russian Doll and it could even happen to Big Little Lies, which has begun a second season with Meryl Streep.
Perhaps, then, what Russian Doll’s second season needs to take a note from its own premise: just repeat the first season again, without any changes. That would retain the perfection, and troll us all to boot.