Second-Rate Tropes: The ‘Groundhog Day’ Scenario
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Groundhog Day is still the exceptional movie it was nearly 25 years ago. One would assume as much from a film that repeats the same day over and over again for its entire duration. If it didn’t get old after an hour and a half straight, why would it lose its luster after a quarter of a century? However, just because it was a strong, original premise that most people enjoyed, that doesn’t give numerous other movies and TV shows the right to repeat the same formula hoping to attain similar praise. The problem with such a mindset is that it results in carbon copies that do nothing to break the mold. More often than not, the character given the time loop problem simply lives out his or her days in frustration until a solution presents itself (usually one overlooked detail). After which, the curse is broken. Sadly, it’s been done so many times by now that it’s considered a trope, and one that has devolved considerably into little more than a poor excuse to watch a character die repeatedly in increasingly comical ways. It was funny the first time we saw it, copycats. What else ya got?
Just kidding, we know the answer. We’ve seen enough of them. For every good example of a Groundhog Day plot that expands on the idea in new and interesting ways, there are ten that don’t. Oh look, here they are now.
Second-Rate Tropes: The Groundhog Day Scenario
In the Season 3 episode "Mystery Spot," Sam Winchester is put in a time loop where he sees his brother die every day. I loved Seasons 1 through 5 of this show, and very much enjoyed this episode when it aired, but...in retrospect, it's pretty much just Groundhog Day down to the basic elements, including knowing what people are going to say before they say it.
'Happy Death Day'
Photo: Universal Pictures
OK, this one's not in theaters quite yet, but come on. You can guess how it's going to play out from a mile away based on the trailer alone: Girl gets killed. Girl gets killed again several more times. Girl figures out how to kill killer. Girl breaks loop curse. Jump scare ending where the killer is still alive. Credits.
Let's not forget that Happy Death Day already came out earlier this year on Netflix in the form of a comedy called Naked. And with a tagline like "It's deja groom all over again," you know there was a ton of thought and originality put into it. I mean, come on, he's naked when each day starts over! That's new, right?
'Star Trek: The Next Generation'
Photo: CBS Television Distribution
Put here more for nerdy trivia purposes, the ST:TNG episode "Cause and Effect" actually predates Groundhog Day by nearly a year. The premise was even slightly different (albeit lamer). The crew's spaceship keeps exploding and they are sent back a few hours to figure out how to stop it. However, no one remembers the previous incident, so they basically figure it out via deja vu. No wonder the trope doesn't bare its name.
Photo: 20th Television
More in line with the Star Trek: The Next Generation premise, Season 6's "Monday" had Mulder and Scully killed by a bomb on repeat until it's discovered that the bomber's girlfriend is the key to setting things right because she's the only one who notices the time loop. Unfortunately, this story explains away the actors having to behave the exact same way every day with some BS about "quantum uncertainty." So it's even less clever or interesting in that regard.
'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Photo: 20th Television
Season 6's "Life Serial" traps Buffy in one of these, even mentioning the previous two entries on this list as it does it. So meta.
'Live. Die. Repeat.'Or was it called Edge of Tomorrow? Pretty sure when I saw it in the theater it was Edge of Tomorrow. But apparently that title was too clever for audiences, so they dumbed it down to the bare essentials. Not a bad movie, but again, it was the same basic premise -- substituting Groundhog Day with an alien war.
Photo: Disney–ABC Domestic Television
Or was it called Taye Break? OK, this time it was actually called Day Break. It's just funnier to call it Taye Break for obvious reasons. Again, we have a scenario where the lead character has to figure out how to stop something that happens every repeating day. If it were more complicated than that, it would probably have more than a season to its name. I mean, how would you keep that premise fresh for more than a season anyways when movies or single episodes have a hard enough time doing it?
Power Rangers Zeo
Photo: Saban Brands
We're putting "A Brief Mystery of Time" on here just because it was so lazy, and yet not that much worse than any of the others since the trope has been done to death regardless. Basically, Zeo Ranger 5 (Tommy) is put in your standard time loop situation so that the bad guys can devise some sort of evil scheme off-planet while he's distracted. Instead, he figures it out because they are dumb. This is a kids show, after all. Every episode ends like that. In a way, the entire series is Groundhog Day.
Remember that thing I mentioned in the intro about this trope just being an excuse to see someone die many times? Yeah, that.
Do you agree with our argument against this worn out theme? If so, we’ve got plenty more beefs that we’ll get to in the coming weeks. And if not, read it again and see if you feel differently. That always works out great.