Geekdom Come, Troping the Riff

Troping the Riff- Groundhog Day

Haven’t you ever had a day go so horribly you wish you could just get a mulligan? A do-over. A chance to go back in time and correct whatever mistakes you made and get the day right. Well if you have then you are in luck because this edition of Troping the Riff is for you. Today we’re going to talk about one of the most standard plot tropes out there, you are about to experience a Groundhog Day. (and I don’t mean the holiday.)
This is one of those rare tropes that actually gets its name from the movie that made it popular Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy classic Groundhog Day (which I talk more about in our How Have You Not Seen That section). The basic concept is that the character is stuck in some sort of infinite time loop, forced to relive the same hour, day, or other established amount of time over and over again. It’s also important that knowledge of the loop is specific to a limited amount of persons, usually just the main character. This way everything keeps happening exactly the same way each day with only the person who remembers acting as a variable to move events in a different direction. The loop eventually ends when the person finally changes the right thing or things.
I’ve already talked about the Groundhog Day film that made the trope popular but the Groundhog Day effect has been used in other films as well. In Happy Death Day, a slasher take on the trope, a woman keeps reliving the same day over and over only to find herself continually getting murdered. Only by unmasking and defeating her killer is she finally able to break the loop. Edge of Tomorrow sees Tom Cruise as a reluctant soldier stuck in a loop while trying to win a battle against alien invaders. And let’s not forget the ten thousand made-for-TV Christmas movies that use this trope to make sure that some Scrooge learns the true meaning of the holidays.
Where this trope really shines thought is on genre television. You name a Sci-fi/fantasy franchise and they’ve probably done an episode featuring this trope. In fact the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect” pre-dates the Groundhog Day movie by a year and is often used to lampshade the trope instead of the movie so that the writer’s room can show off its uber-nerd status (looking at you Buffy episode “Life Serial”) Most of the time the trope is used for a lighthearted episode like SG1 does in “Window of Opportunity” or in the Legends of Tomorrow episode “Here I Go Again” which not only lampshades the trope and gets super Meta about calling out the phases of its traditional montages but then proceeds to subvert the whole episode and go with another trope entirely. But perhaps my favorite use of the time loop idea comes from the X-Files episode “Monday” which breaks the trope mold in quite a few ways but still stays true to its core tenants.
Of course not every TV show that uses this trope is a raving success, just ask Taye Diggs. But by in large this trope produce quality programming and is a staple plot device of sci-fi tv and rom-com movies everywhere. And why wouldn’t it be. After all…… Haven’t you ever had a day go so horribly you wish you could just get a mulligan?

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