The Pop Culture Legacy of 'Groundhog Day'
The 1993 movie inspired a popular trope that continues to exist throughout film and television.
Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day turns 24 this year, and its legacy remains ongoing. Woodstock, Il's fictional Tip Top Cafe was temporarily turned into the real Tip Top Bistro; AMC plays the movie all day every February 2nd; and Woodstock even has an annual Groundhog Day festival. The phrase "groundhog day" has even entered our daily lexicon as a shorter way to explain that the same bad shit keeps happening day after day—and especially so within the military. But, more than anything, Groundhog Day's legacy can be found continuing to permeate pop culture.
There are a number of movies that take similar conceits to Groundhog Day's: In 2014's Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise's character gets sent back in a loop every time he dies in battle; in Netflix's ARQ from last year, an engineer invents a machine that causes a time loop; and then there's the upcoming YA book adaptation Before I Fall, where a teenager repeatedly relives the day she dies.
But this trope rears its head most frequently throughout television's many genres. The popularity of the "Groundhog Day Loop," as the wonderfully obsessive TV Tropes site defines it, is a "plot in which the character is caught in a time loop, doomed to repeat a period of time (often exactly one day) over and over, until something is corrected." It's easy to see why television shows often deploy this device, which is a way to shake up existing formulas—especially when it comes to sitcoms, which rely on fun but repetitive formats—and insert a little supernatural weirdness to a show that might not even have any supernatural links. Because of the inherent reset button the trope provides, an episode of TV can explore different scenarios, plots, character interactions, and outcomes—and if any of them don't quite feel right, the writers can start over (often with the ringing of a shrill alarm clock).
Suitably, the "Groundhog Day Loop" appears most frequently throughout science-fiction-based TV shows, along with other shows that possess supernatural ties. In a episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season, Buffy gets stuck in a time loop while trying to kill a mummy's hand; its spinoff, Angel, spun the "Groundhog Day Loop" into a random, disorienting new direction with the episode "Time Bomb." Charmed—which is set for a reboot, since these days the executives greenlighting TV shows are basically living their own version of Groundhog Day—closed out its first season with "Déjà Vu All Over Again," in which the sisters repeatedly tried to stop a deadly attack on them and their childhood friend Andy.
And then there's the famous X-Files episode "Monday," co-written by Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan and inspired by The Twilight Zone's "Shadow Play." It opens with Mulder dying during a bank hostage situation and then waking up from a dream to go out about his day—only to end up in that same bank, dying, and waking up again. "Monday" is one of the best Groundhog Day television homages, as the loop seemingly and endlessly repeats itself—but the nice twist is that Mulder (and Scully) aren't aware of the loop. Instead, it's an increasingly frustrated and desperate Pam tries to convince Mulder that something is going to happen.
There are entire dramas based around this trope, too: In the Eliza Dushku-starring Tru Calling (a forgettable series that only I believe is actually underrated), dead bodies suddenly wake up and ask Tru for help, resetting her day so she can save them. (Early Edition had a similar premise, with the season four episode "Run, Gary, Run" possessing a Groundhog Day feel—although, as the title implies, it bore more similarities in scope to Run, Lola, Run.) Day Break, another short-lived series, revolved around a detective (Taye Diggs) who kept reliving the day he was framed for murder. Every new/old day, he has to put together more pieces that will prove his innocence. You can even argue that Westworld has ties to Groundhog Day; every day, the hosts wake up and embark on the same journey in the same timeline, repeating their same words and actions.
But this trope isn't just limited to dramas. It pops up in the Canadian series Being Erica, the sitcom adaptation of Weird Science, and even an episode of My Name Is Earl where the trope is heavily subverted, as a character is trapped in a loop due to a brain injury and is the only one who's unaware of what's going on. The "Groundhog Day Loop" is so adaptable that it even appears in children's shows, from The Famous Jett Jackson to The Suite Life of Zack and Cody to, yep, a 1996 Sesame Street Christmas special. Even game shows get into the fun: Today's episode of CBS's Let's Make A Deal featured the same contestant getting called down and stuck in the same deal, allowing her to change her decisions.
It's this adaptability that allows the trope to remain alive, but it's the wishful thinking that makes it so relatable and watchable. The basic gist of the "Groundhog Day Loop"—that you can relive a day in which you may have fucked up, that you can literally save someone's life, that you can tell off your boss or punch your enemy or kiss your crush and know that everything will just reset and erase those actions tomorrow—provides viewers with something desirable. It's impossible in real life, but watching these characters, whether they're gleefully wrecking shit or righting a terrible wrong, is the next best thing.
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