“Dying is Easy. It’s Living That’s Hard” isn’t the catch phrase of the game Russian Roulette, but from the new Netflix series Russian Doll. Released on February 1, the series tells the story of New York game developer Nadia who keeps dying and re-living her birthday party every day. Like the Russian dolls that influenced the title, it’s a multi-layered story, which gets increasingly intriguing as you binge through the eight episodes.
A dark homage to the 1993’s classic Groundhog Day, the comedy-drama series was created by Natasha Lyonne (of Orange is the New Black fame), Leslye Headland (Heathers), and Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation). The series is entirely written and directed by women, allowing the actresses to really dive deep into their complex roles.
Natasha Lyonne stars as Nadia and is stuck on the day of her 36th birthday party. Later in the series she meets Allen played by Charlie Barnett and learns he too is stuck in the loop. As the story develops we also learn more about Nadia’s background with her mother (played by Chole Sevigny). Other actors in the series include Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, Elizabeth Ashley, Dascha Polanco, Brendan Sexton II, and Rebecca Henderson. It’s tough to explain too much of the story without spoiling it, but we’ll give you an idea as we look at our favorite songs.
1. Ariel Pink & Weyes Blood – Morning After
This 2017 song, a collaboration between Ariel Pink and Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood) is in episode one – the first morning after Nadia’s first death. It plays while Maxine, Nadia’s friend and host of the birthday party, is showing off her art projections. Ariel Pink’s hypnagogic pop melody and Weyes Blood’s folksy voice provide the perfect background for Maxine’s art.
2. Pony Sherrell – Don’t Put Off ‘Til Tomorrow
Pony Sherrell’s “Don’t Put Off ‘Til Tomorrow” from her 1956 album Jungle, Ungle, Um, Bai! features in the second episode of the series. As Sherrell sings, “Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do tonight…Why take a chance on losing something great?” Perfect advice for Nadiya who will be facing death yet again at the end of this epside. Jungle, Ungle, Um, Bai! was just re-released last year.
3. The Limiñanas – Migas 2000
Playing in episode two as Nadia finally decides it’s not worth trying to fight her death, this garage-psych song is a perfect fit. The Limiñanas are a French husband-wife duo who sing in a mixture of French, English, Spanish, and Italian. “Migas 2000” actually gives the singer Lionel’s grandmother’s recipe of a popular Spanish dish made from bread crumbs and meats (migas).
4. Caldera, Caldera!
Classified as a pop-noir song, Gemma Ray’s “Caldera, Caldera!” plays as Nadia drunkenly stumbles through a park in episode three. There she meets a homeless man, Horse, who attempts desperately to cut her hair.
5. Gang Gang Dance – MindKilla
Episode three ends with “MindKilla” – right as Nadia has the mind-blowing realization that she is not the only person who keeps experiencing death day after day. The NYC experimental group’s synths and singer Lizzi’s distinct vocal styles put you in the mindfuck moment Nadia is experiencing.
6. Beethoven – Piano concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58: Rondo-vivace
While Nadia wakes up each day to Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up”, Alan wakes up to this upbeat Beethoven classic in episode four. He has a much more optimistic look at his repeated death!
7. Timber Timbre – Black Water
“Black Water” plays out the fifth episode as once again death strikes. The desire “all I need is some sunshine” helps bring the viewer back to their (hopefully) brighter reality from all the darkness of the series. The freak folk, bluesy Canadian group’s music is a perfect spooky cinematic fit.
8. Jacqueline Taieb – La plus belle chanson
A French pop song from the 1960s, “the most beautiful song in the world” plays in the sixth episode as Nadia and Alan have sex for the first (and only?) time. The yé-yé song provides a magical escape for the two characters who are stuck in a seemingly-endless time loop.
9. Cults – You Know What I Mean
Episode six ends with this doo-wop 2011 song that is all about a desire to be saved from everything that is going wrong in life. (Like continuously dying.) “Tell me what’s wrong with my brain cause I seem to have lost it”…
10. When In Rome – The Promise
Episode seven opens with 1987’s “The Promise”, a love plea that plays while we see Nadia as a child with her mother. As Nadia’s family and friends steadily disappear, a promise to “always be there” seems to be floating away.