Natasha Lyonne’s Emmy-winning Netflix dramedy Russian Doll — about Nadia, a cynical New Yorker caught in a fatal Groundhog Day — type time loop with sensitive pal Alan (Charlie Barnett)—is back for more trippy intrigue. In Season 2, four years have passed, and the friends still jump time…but they no longer repeatedly die. That’s hopefully, though not necessarily, a good thing for the battered duo.
Among their retro travels, which occur unexpectedly via an NYC subway train, Nadia returns to the city’s East Village in the 1980s, her late mother Leonora’s (Chloe Sevigny) stomping grounds. Her goal: Find the missing fortune of her Holocaust refugee grandmother — stolen South African Krugerrands! It’s a journey that may uncover not just gold coins but a portal into how Nadia can reconcile with her family trauma and perhaps move on to a less chaotic life.
Alan has his own valuable era-spanning adventures too, and while each may take some steps toward self-acceptance, the course is rocky. They’ll have to work together to make it through the existential challenges. Along the way, Schitt’s Creek Emmy winner Annie Murphy turns up in a surprising role.
Lyonne, who is Russian Doll‘s showrunner and a writer and director as well as the star, offers some hints of what’s to come.
The last we saw Nadia, she and Alan were in the same timeline, had stopped dying over and over again, and didn’t want to kill themselves. When Season 2 opens, where do we find Nadia and Alan? How are they?
Natasha Lyonne: The launching point for Season 2 is “Now that I’m not dead, how do I go about living?” The first season ends with Nadia telling Alan that she can’t promise he’ll be happy, but that he won’t be alone. Now it’s four years later and that’s great, but surely we’re missing something about this thing called life that we’re supposed to be so excited about. How do we find that?
They may have escaped mortality’s time loop, but what can you say about their travels involving an unexpected time portal? Do they each go back into their pasts?
Season 1 is about life and death; it’s about mortality and self-destruction, it’s more clear-cut. Season 2 attempts a nuanced and yet oddly more grounded distinction — it’s about the nature of time and how that impacts us in life. I don’t want to get into too many specifics, but despite the time-travel element, it’s actually about trying to reconcile with our limited time in the here and now.
They go back to the East Village in 1982. Why is that important to Nadia? Is it important to Alan?
I won’t say too much, but the East Village is incredibly important to me and to Nadia. Amy Poehler was responsible for the idea of the train being the way they traveled through time. I remember Poehler coming into the writers’ room one day and being like, “Just make it the New York subway system.” It’s a brilliant idea and I’d love to take credit for it, but I can’t. But I can certainly take credit for the difficulty of actually shooting and executing that idea! Suffice to say, shooting in the New York subway is not the easiest thing to do. It was a big idea that ultimately pays major dividends, but was incredibly challenging to execute. We did tons of train research and took many classes with the MTA. Everybody had to do a track class, which is very scary. You have to stand in a murder hole where trains go by you on both sides, and it’s the scariest shit you’ve ever done in your life.
Can you mention any other time travel?
No, because I want to keep the viewing experience as pure as possible for those tuning in.
How would you describe their arc this season and the ways it affects the two friends?
Poehler did a really great job of describing this journey as trying to get to the smallest doll inside of the Russian doll — and that smallest doll is the truth of what’s inside of us. The show is all about stripping away the outer shell to try and get to the truest nature of these characters. The first season is a parable about the double-sided coin of self-destruction and connection, and how Nadia and Alan both have to face that reality about themselves. It’s been almost four years, Nadia’s coming up on her 40th birthday now, and this time around they must continue trying to get that smallest core doll, but through a whole new set of time obstacles and quantum loops.
Russian Doll, Season 2 Premiere, Wednesday, April 20, Netflix