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Listen: ‘Russian Doll’ Showrunner on Challenging Female-Driven Narratives

Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety‘s television podcast. In this week’s installment, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, chats with Leslye Headland, the showrunner of Netflix’s new series “Russian Doll.”

The show, co-created by Headland, Amy Poehler, and Natasha Lyonne, who also plays the lead role, follows a woman who is hit by a car after a party and dies, only to wake up and relive that same day over and over again. She has to figure out what the hell is going on, and how she can escape this deadly fate.

There is the “mystery box element” of the series, Headland says, and Nadia (Lyonne) will need to deal with questions about different timelines and the metaphysical. However, it’s far from a sci-fi series, and aims instead to address topics like spirituality and ethics.

Additionally, with a woman at the center, Headland says there are opportunities to differ from typical female narratives about material possessions or motherhood.

“It was really important to explore a show about a female protagonist that asked spiritual and existential questions,” Headland says. “As opposed to a show that was about a woman finding romance, a woman finding balance between her work life and her love life … those are all worthy endeavors and excellent shows made about all of those things, but we just were thinking, ‘But what hasn’t been done?'”

Headland says the creators also kept the show fresh by straying away from other magical realism projects like “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the main character’s problems are society’s making.

“[Nadia] is the architect of her own destruction,” Headland says. “We’re making the point that this is of her own creation, and it’s something she is going to have to rectify for herself. It’s not something that society is going to reel her in for.”

With Lyonne leading the pack, whom Headland calls one of the “premiere physical comedians” in the industry, the showrunner says audiences can see “neck-down comedy” more than ever. Every choice Lyonne makes with her body is funny, Headland says, and she proves that women can be sexy and funny at the same time.

In the seven years since Headland’s film “Bachelorette” came out, she says she’s seen a positive shift away from the “can women be funny?” debates. Back when she got on the Blacklist with the romantic comedy in 2008, she was constantly told the film would never be made. Now, women are putting out some of the best content in Hollywood in droves.

“In the years since then, there is this feeling of, not only are women driving the box office and not only are they interested in R-rated, more adult comedies,” Headland says, “we also have more women creating … at a higher rate. As you see that stuff getting picked up and put into the marketplace and succeeding, it opens the door for everybody else.”

Russian Doll” premiered Friday, Feb. 1. Later in the podcast, Variety’s TV critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke discuss the show further, as well as Hulu’s “PEN15.” Additionally, Danielle Turchiano, Variety’s senior features editor of television talks about Fox’s version of “Rent.”

New episodes of “TV Take” are available every Friday. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or anywhere you download podcasts. You can find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.

Leslye Headland photographed exclusively for the Variety TV Take Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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