Television Man | Aidan Morgan | May 12, 2022

Russian Doll

“When you gaze up into the night sky, the light from long-dead televisions shines down upon us and dimples our faces in ancient cathode ray memories” —a very misinformed astronomer

Sometimes when I need to re-orient myself, I reflect on the fact that 94 per cent of the universe is inaccessible to us forever, speeding away from our little cluster of galaxies at an ever-increasing rate. With every second that passes, 20,000 stars pass beyond that barrier, leaving us forever on their quest to get the hell away from humanity (I assume that’s the motivation).

Even if we hopped a ship that could zip us through the universe at the speed of light, we would never reach them. Ninety-four per cent, completely out of our reach.

On a completely unrelated note, there’s a lot of television out there. Most of it consists of shows in which people are suspended over shark tanks and forced to guess which shark is cake. But even after the junk is jettisoned (or fed to the cake sharks), plenty of worthwhile stuff remains.

Not only is this completely exhausting for television critics, it means that strange overlaps begin to occur. For example, the well of murders has Lake Meaded itself to the point that we’re being treated to two different “limited series” about Candace Montgomery, a Texan woman who applied an axe liberally to her friend Betty Gore. Candy (Hulu), starring Jessica Biel, has already debuted to middling reviews. Love and Death (HBO Max), with Elizabeth Olsen, will be stabbing its way to the screen later this year. Maybe viewers didn’t get enough of the Montgomery/Gore story in the 1990 TV movie A Killing in a Small Town?

My favourite thematic overlap this year is the season two release of Russian Doll (Netflix) and Undone (Prime Video), two psychedelic series about women coming to terms with their dysfunctional families by bouncing around through time and multiple realities. Russian Doll’s first season operated on a Groundhog’s Day death-loop premise, sending Natasha Lyonne and Charlie Bennett through an endless cycle of increasingly amusing deaths. The second season expanded the scope of the series and touched on intergenerational trauma and the Holocaust, but the time-travel premise doesn’t serve up the same frisson as watching Natasha Lyonne repeatedly falling into manholes or getting flattened by taxis, all the while consuming so many drugs it’s amazing she survives long enough to get killed.

Undone, created by Kate Purdy of Bojack Horseman fame, follows Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar) as she attempts to solve and maybe even undo the childhood event she blames for her family’s misery — the death of her father (Bob Odenkirk). Like Russian Doll, the second season expands from personal to intergenerational and historic trauma, but it feels more confident and surefooted. It’s also more formally daring in its second season, with its rotoscope-style animation shifting into fractal landscapes during an emotionally arresting climax.