If the premise of “Russian Doll” sounded familiar — a woman lives through the same night of her life, over and over and over again, to her frustration and eventual enlightenment — the actual show was anything but. This Netflix comedy series, which stars Natasha Lyonne as Nadia, the protagonist caught in an inexplicable time loop, and which she created with Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler, was a heartfelt and idiosyncratic tribute to the uncertainties of middle age, to the East Village and to Lyonne’s own life, whose details are encrypted throughout the show.
[Here’s what happened at the 2019 Emmy nominations | See a list of Emmy nominees.]
On Tuesday, “Russian Doll” received 13 Emmy Award nominations, including one for outstanding comedy series and one for Lyonne as lead actress in a comedy. It’s the second acting nomination for Lyonne, who was previously nominated as a guest actress on “Orange Is the New Black,” and who apparently cannot help but be herself in any conversation. Lyonne spoke by phone on Tuesday afternoon about “Russian Doll” and the growing community of female-created shows that it belongs to. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
How are you?
[she begins to sing the “Entertainment Tonight” theme song] I really want to thank Leeza Gibbons. I’m not sure what’s happening. I’m gonna black out. The “Entertainment Tonight” theme song is playing, and it was almost the song we went with instead of Harry Nilsson as the restart song. It was really between the two. And “Gotta Go to Mo’s — Modell’s.” It was those songs, but we went with Harry Nilsson. That’s what we landed on in the edit. All those other songs were too expensive.
“Russian Doll” received 13 Emmy nominations today. That must be very exciting.
It’s bananas. It’s really insane. We’re still all going to die, is the revelation. Everybody on “Game of Thrones” — whoever didn’t die on the show is still going to die in real life. But hopefully not for a while. In the here and now, what a wonderful way to assess the hard work. And how nice. We worked so hard, I really thought that my brain was going to implode, and my soul. I really felt the weight, the albatross of making sure that that show would sing and communicate all things that I had hoped for. It was a heavy toll, and arriving on the other side with some sort of celebration is pretty extraordinary. It’s very affirming on a creative level, to keep plugging away.
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This was a season where comedies with female creators, that told stories about women — this series, “Fleabag,” “Dead to Me,” “Pen15” — rose to the fore and got recognition. What do you think accounts for this moment?
The truth is, I really thought that it was so unlikely, because there are such gorgeous contenders this year. There are so many worthy shows. I’m not sure if this is a response to fascism, that all of a sudden everybody’s rising up and trying to say something. If having an inch of leeway is what’s creating the space, finally. There’s the willingness to greenlight female-driven brainchildren. I’m not sure how it coalesced, but this is a great moment for women. It really is a very special time.
What’s so striking about it is, it feels like stories that have not yet been told. It’s flipping Joseph Campbell, putting him in a blender on LSD. The very concept of women as the leaders of the pack — running our own writers’ rooms, being at the helm and directing, really making our own shows, heart and soul. Frankly, we’re so terrified at the prospect of blowing our chance that we work really, really hard. “Russian Doll” is very much an experience of trying to get the history of everything into eight half-hour episodes, just in case they never allowed me to make anything ever again. For so many women — whether that’s Phoebe [Waller-Bridge, of “Fleabag”] or Pamela Adlon [of “Better Things”], Ava DuVernay [of “When They See Us”] — whether we realize it or not, I think we’re being driven by the idea of, “This is my only shot — I’ve got to make it count and say what I really want to say while I’m here to say it.”
There’s this community now — what are we doing, other than trying to live to fight another day? And hope that through the stories we tell, other people see themselves in it? I was talking to Chloe [Sevingy, a friend and “Russian Doll” guest star], who’s shooting in Italy, and Greta Lee [a “Russian Doll” co-star], who was crying on FaceTime. Uzo [Aduba, her co-star on “Orange Is the New Black”] was flipping out. It’s really, for me, pretty profound and feels, on a human level, deep that we’re all in this thing together.
Not to ——
How’d “Chernobyl” do? What about the graphite? Did the graphite get a nomination? I love that show. I think “Chernobyl” pairs well with “Russian Doll.” That show is incredible. [Ed. note: “Chernobyl” received 19 nominations.]
“Russian Doll” has been renewed for Season 2. How do you even begin to contemplate it?
It’s a shot-for-shot remake of “Network,” but with a little taste of “Free Willy,” to give the kids what they like. Never have two things blended together so well before. It’s going to be more things above my resting I.Q. level that I’m hoping to explore, because what else am I doing in that writers’ room anyway? I really want to continue to ask big questions. I came up in a very particular way, and I’ve seen a lot of the horror of the human condition and I’ve studied too much Talmud, and the two things collide in such a way that make me want to ask big questions of, what’s it all about, Alfie? That’ll be the thesis question of Season 2. That’s the plan.
Dave Itzkoff is a culture reporter whose latest book, “Robin,” a biography of Robin Williams, was published in May. @ditzkoff
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