5 Best “Groundhog Day” Style Time Loop Episodes

Groundhog Day – a holiday built around predicting the weather based on a sleepy rodent’s reaction to seeing his shadow – sounds like it should be a bit on 30 Rock. However, unlike Leap Day William, Groundhog Day is very much real. But you probably know that, thanks to Harold Ramis’ movie by the same name from way back in 1993. Starring Bill Murray as a grumpy meteorologist, the movie revolves around him reliving the same day over and over again until he finally breaks the cycle thanks to the power of love.

Odd, clever, captivating, and endlessly funny, the movie became such an icon of popular culture, it not only brought an obscure holiday to the forefront of public consciousness, it made the very term Groundhog Day synonymous with a time loop scenario. A scenario where a character or characters keep experiencing the same events as they search for a way to escape the loop.

It’s no great mystery why a Groundhog Day time loop is both entertaining for the viewers and a fun challenge for the creators. Observing the subtle changes between the loops, picking up on all the differences, watching the characters gradually go crazy from either the monotony or the futility of their attempts to change things – it all makes for great viewing. And on the opposite end of this, seeding all the hints, jokes and visual gags, or portraying the exact same thing ever so slightly differently each time – that’s a great way to exercise your writing and acting craft.

And that’s why plenty of TV shows attempted a Groundhog Day episode at some point. Having revisited a lot of them, we now bring you a list of what we think are the top 5 television Groundhog Day episodes:

  • 5. The Good Place – Dance Dance Resolution
  • 4. Doctor Who – Heaven Sent
  • 3. Supernatural – Mystery Spot
  • 2. Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cause & Effect
  • 1. Stargate SG-1 – Window of Opportunity

Dance Dance Resolution

The ending of the first season of The Good Place drops a pretty big bomb on the viewers – it reveals that throughout the whole season the characters were not living, or should we say existing, in the show’s version of Heaven where they didn’t belong, but instead were psychologically tormented in the show’s version of Hell. And the good-natured higher being Michael portrayed by Ted Danson was actually a demon running a social experiment on them. When the characters learn this, the experiment fails and Michael resets it to avoid looking like a failure in front of his demon bosses. Following this, instead of reverting to the safe and the old, the show makes a big pivot is season two. From a more traditional sitcom with a zany premise and over-the-top characters it becomes this uplifting metaphysical journey through Heaven, Hell, and various places in-between on a quest to right the cosmic wrongs.

5 best groundhog day episodes good place

The second episode of the second season facilitates this shift by portraying Michael’s increasingly frustrated but ultimately fruitless attempts to create the perfectly torturous facsimile of the Good Place by rebooting his simulation hundreds of times. But when even Jason, a character who’s about as bright as a subterranean cave lined with a thick coating of vantablack, figures out what’s happening, Michael finally throws in the towel and goes from an adversary masquerading as a friend to a very petty, unreliable and amusingly vile ally. And so, for pushing the show forward in such a major way while essentially spinning its wheels in place, Dance Dance Resolution gets a well-deserved spot on this list.

Heaven Sent

Coming right at the end of the second season of Peter Capaldi portraying the time-traveling alien known as the Doctor, this episode solidifies Capaldi as one of the best actors to play the character. With a runtime of almost a full hour, this essentially one-man show is a tour de force showing both how good Capaldi is as an actor, and how great an episode of Doctor Who Steven Moffat can write when he’s not burdened by the necessity to come up with some grand overarching story.

5 best groundhog day episodes doctor who

With the Doctor being a Time Lord, it’s no surprise that the episode plays with the concept of a time loop by making it one of his own creation, and one that we the viewers start following several thousand repetitions in. Due to the nature of this loop, the Doctor is as clueless as the audience at the beginning and has to figure it all out every time as he’s chased through a mysterious castle by an unstoppable opponent. When he does, and we with him, and the gravity of what he’s been doing and what he still has to do descends on him, it results in a masterfully acted moment of sheer despair and a triumph of perseverance that can be appreciated even by someone who’s not seen an episode of the show before. This makes Heaven Sent perfect for this list.

Mystery Spot

There are several schools of thought when it comes to deciding which seasons of Supernatural are actually good. Some people like it all, others only consider the first five seasons to be the good years. But even if your “good Supernatural” cutoff point comes earlier than that, chances are you count Mystery Spot among your favorite episodes of the show.

5 best groundhog day episodes supernatural

Featuring the mischievous Trickster character as the monster of the week for the second time, this episode has perhaps the most direct references to Groundhog Day the movie, down to each day starting with a radio alarm. In the episode, Dean dies every loop in some increasingly convoluted way, leaving Sam the only one who remembers it. Considering the show’s trajectory and future events, we can’t even fault the Trickster for being malicious here, merely callous. His main goal, after all, was to teach Sam how to let go, a skill that could’ve saved the show’s universe a lot of trouble. In the end, Sam insists on being stubborn and the Trickster washes his hands of that whole situation, but not before dropping a piano on Dean in the most Looney Tunes way possible and throwing in some Back to the Future references for good measure. After that episode, Heat of the Moment by Asia will never be seen the same, which cements Mystery Spot’s spot on this list.

Cause & Effect

Perhaps the most notable thing about Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Cause & Effect episode is the fact that it premiered almost a year before Groundhog Day. Truly, that show fulfilled its mission to boldly go where no one has gone before. Without an established template to work with, it’s endlessly impressive how closely the Enterprise flies to Groundhog Day here.

5 best groundhog day episodes star trek tng

The episode utilizes the lowered stakes inherent to a time loop by opening with a shot of the Enterprise and everyone aboard blowing up. Then the loop resets to a calm game of poker. In the best Star Trek fashion, the show then allows its characters to use their wits, their combined strengthss, and the power of cooperation to figure out a way to escape the loop while avoiding their seemingly inevitable destruction. In the end our reward is a groundbreaking episode and a shot of Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer as a captain of a Federation starship. If that doesn’t get Cause & Effect a spot close to the top of the list, we don’t know what will.

Window of Opportunity

Stargate SG-1 always knew how to balance the serious with the comedic without becoming an outright farce. And so it’s only natural that Window of Opportunity, SG-1’s take on the Groundhog Day formula, is most fondly remembered for its humorous bits, like Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill and Christopher Judge’s Teal’c – the only two team members to retain their memories between the loops – golfing through the stargate, O’Neill losing the possession of his faculties in the commissary, or Teal’c getting hit in the face by a door at the start of every loop.

5 best groundhog day episodes stargate sg1

But that episode is so jam-packed with great moments that rewatching it, you can’t help but appreciate its lesser-known bits and visual gags, like O’Neill’s “bad example” catchphrase, Teal’c’s growing frustration with getting his temperature taken, and just the whole dynamic of the often-goofy O’Neill and the stoic Teal’c being on the same page while everyone else keeps doubting their sanity.

And then for an episode like this to end on a sentimental note that tugs on all the right heartstrings and have that fit in there perfectly among all the jokes, it’s what makes SG-1 so great and propels Cause & Effect to the very top of our list.

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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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