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Russian Doll on Netflix

David Sherry
4 min read

Right now we swap through Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon equally. I "cut the cord" 6+ years ago. Some time in college. I could always find sports if I needed and everything else I pirated. Until now, thanks to the streaming services. The $15 is well worth the convenience, and so like burning CD's disappeared because Spotify legitimized music, now we see the same for TV.

Well, it used to be that TV played to the masses, and therefore made garbage which we willingly consumed. I'm not saying it's not fun to occasionally watch the Voice or the Kardashians, but if you're looking for plot and writing this is not where you turn.

But on the big screen, movies, we also turned toward mass, which is why there are rarely original movies anymore. Instead, we get sequels, remakes and brand extensions. We get Super Heroes, redone westerns and Star Wars spin-offs.

These serve a purpose, but Netflix's investment in media was about giving us something new.

Not that the way we purchase TV will be. Everything will be bundled and it will be just like it was before, except now the bundles are online and the cable companies stream to your phone.

But I'm not complaining because we're getting a choice.

And we're getting quality.

Netflix is spending on data, using algorithms to help not only drive creative but drive suggestions. Then again genre creating creative is never formulaic.

So Netflix can identify the zeitgeist, but likely can't spur it, at least not in the early days.

What they will do efficiently is capture it. They're positively having a moment right now. They're putting out hit.

"Bird Box" Marie Kondo's show, and now the "Fyre" doc which I thought was less informative and made me more uneasy as compared to the Hulu version.

Either way, they're driving eyeballs, investing in creative, and are unafraid to deliver in niches like comedy and cooking.

Like we saw with the recent Gimlet acquisition, original creative is selling at a high multiple.

Maybe more than software! The economics of owning a license in your backlog is phenomenal, that is if they have staying power. And it's almost impossible to know if that's true upon release. In fact, many shows look like duds before they become cult classics. The "Cult" makes them into something that is so big they continue to stream for a decade. Like Seinfeld. Like Star Trek. Like the Office. Like Stranger Things...well that may not be the case.

Not that we'll see many more buyouts like that. Gimlet was perfectly positioned in a growing market, and now Spotify is looking to grow the pie that they're helping bake (and then eat).

But original content satiates the appetite of current subscribers and it draws in new ones. So not only do hits drive views, but they drive attraction of creators to the platform.

Netflix has the advantage of the head start.

Amazon has the bundle.

Hulu is partnered up with the big players like Disney.

The Data is key, but Netflix suggested is not always on the money.

For that, we still go to recommendations from other humans, either individually or en masse a la Rotten Tomatoes.

Which is where I saw a note about Russian Doll in Kevin Kelley's Reccomendo ( newsletter.

The premise is about facing your demons; but the plot is about Nadia, a frizzy red haired, gruff 30's NYC dweller is stuck repeating her birthday in a "Groundhogs Day" like fashion.

Each time she dies she ends up back at her own birthday. And at the party are characters from her past (and her future) which help her reconcile some hidden burdens that she's kept below the surface.

And the characters are simple at first, but as the loops progress, we see more texture and stories and eventually...

Everything that was kept inside and buried comes to the surface.

This show is like therapy, except the stakes are more dramatic and it's messy, the way it is in real life. Loops happen more than they should before we learn. And try as we might to avoid our demons, someday there is a reckoning.

Like how Nadia falls down the stairs and ends up back in the bathroom again because she misstepped her loop.

But how do you know when you're in a loop? And what is the misstep that's keeping you there

What is it that will release you?

That's hard to see, but its' easy when it involves other people. These are the rough spots, the overlaps of emotion, self-interest, unrequited love or unmet needs that other people bring out in us.

So the person that you thought you were... is that who you truly are?

And can you escape the person that you grew up as?

Nadia avoids her past, it's a non-starter.

On the other hand, Alan can't face the future.

He can't be alone but everywhere he goes he feels that he is. It's a hole that is impossible to fill.

And this bent in his mindset harms his relationships and makes them unbearable.

On the other hand, Nadia is a natural repellant. Can't commit to a long term relationship and pushes others away as soon as they get close.

But the two of them are linked in a new dimension.

And I won't give away the ending but it does what shows rarely do, it leaves you feeling satisfied.

And the art of the show was how right as things get repetitive, something happens to hold your attention.

This is the power of TV. To reflect life not because it's so similar to life, but instead because it puts together a narrative that reflects how we feel.

In Russian Doll we see two people hiding their demons who are forced into putting down their armor less they stay stuck in a loop for eternity.

And who knew that taking the armor would lead to better relationships with the world...

And with each other?

xx David