Since Groundhog Day hit the big screen in 1993, having to repeat days or getting caught in a time loop has become a staple trope of television.
To celebrate Punxsutawney Phil, we put together a list of their favorite Groundhog Day loop TV episodes. From Buffy, to Star Trek, to Supernatural, most of our beloved shows have a uniquely tragic — and sometimes hilarious — approach to the time loop.
Warning. Tread carefully, Rewatchable newbies. There are spoilers for a season 6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ahead.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ 6×05, ‘Life Serial’ — Selina Wilken
Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t a show to shy away from trope bottle episodes, but it usually found a way to give a tired cliché a fresh spin.
The season 6 episode “Life Serial” is all about the utter horror of a mundane life (the show’s most formidable enemy), as Buffy finds herself looping, of all moments, her first and only day as a Magic Shop employee. Turns out it’s the Trio playing tricks on her, forcing her to learn how to provide good customer service… and as the episode proves, sheer boredom is almost enough to kill even the strongest of vampire slayers.
It’s entertaining to watch Buffy go through, but — like with most of season 6 — it also hits a little close to home. After all, aren’t most of us stuck in the same exact boring circle, without any hope of escape?
‘Charmed,’ 1×22, ‘Déjà Vu All Over Again’ — Karen Rought
In this episode, Tempus helps a demon going by Rodriguez attack the Charmed Sisters in the hopes of killing all three of them. With someone like Tempus on your side, you’d think that’d be an easy feat. Every time Rodriguez fails, the sorcerer would reverse time, bring him back, and allow him an extra chance. Prue defeated him the first time, but Phoebe was killed in the process. The second time, both Phoebe and Piper were killed. It seemed like the third time would be the end of the Charmed Ones, but Andy saw Rodriguez for what he really was and charged into the Halliwell manor to help the sisters. This meant Prue, Piper, and Phoebe lived and defeated Rodriguez, but Andy’s death was a permanent result.
What makes this episode so emotional is seeing the sisters die over and over again, while another one looks on, helpless. It parallels one of the biggest and most emotional moments in the series, which we find at the end of season 3. Looking back now makes these deaths, while temporary, even harder to stomach. The sisters went through a lot in this episode, but there would be so much more to come.
‘Doctor Who,’ multiple episodes — Laura Byrne Christiano
As fans know, Doctor Who does time travel all the time. As a generality, the Doctor is careful about crossing his own timeline because if he were to meet himself, a giant paradox would occur that could threaten to destroy the universe. A couple of episodes really stick out that explore the going back in time and trying to avoid oneself: “Father’s Day,” “Blink,” and “Before the Flood.” Each one of these episodes is unique in their own way.
In “Father’s Day,” Rose Tyler causes a giant paradox by saving her deceased father’s life and by touching her infant self. In “Blink,” the Doctor sends messages to the future to help save Martha and himself, who have been thrown into the past by the Weeping Angels. It’s where the whole “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” phrase was coined because time loops are always brain dizzying. Lastly, in “Before the Flood,” the Doctor has to go back in time to discover what happened to the underwater town. He not only has to avoid himself, but he also has Clara relaying how “his ghost” is talking to her in the present timeline while he’s still trying to figure out what’s going on in the past. It uses the Bootstrap Paradox theory to explain to the audience what’s going on.
‘Once Upon a Time,’ multiple episodes — Brittany Lovely
Forget one day, how about being stuck living the same years over and over again? Once Upon a Time‘s Storybrooke was perpetually stuck in a time loop before Emma Swan arrived on the scene. After stepping foot in the town square, the clock suddenly began to move forward and the quiet town was never quite the same.
The series has played with time before, as the same events played out in repetition and time travelers had the opportunity to set things right. In the two-part season 3 finale, “Snow Drifts,” and, “There’s No Place Like Home,” Emma and Hook went back in time to the Enchanted Forest where they had to recreate the events that led to her parents Snow White and Prince Charming meeting and falling in love. But a few disturbances in the past led to a whole mess of chaos in the future.
Once Upon a Time typically strays from the “same day on repeat” plot line, but they are no strangers to working in time loops that do more to confuse the audience than make connections. The incorporation of Neverland into the storyline gave Hook the opportunity to be 300-plus years old while also allowing for a fresh faced Pan to rule over the world. Time is Once Upon a Time‘s best friend and worst enemy. But, if the entire series were to conclude with the heroes living the same day over and over again in different scenarios, we would not be surprised.
‘Star Trek: Next Generation,’ 5×18, ‘Cause and Effect’ — Donya Abramo
Though Groundhog Day popularized the time loop trope after it hit the big screen in 1993, Star Trek: The Next Generation technically beat them to the punch almost a whole year earlier. Premiering on March 23, 1992, the cold open for “Cause and Effect” with the Enterprise D exploding was enough to make even the most stoic of Star Trek fans’ hearts skip a beat, and head almost immediately into denial. It remains, to this day, one of the most impressive cold opens to a show that I have ever seen.
But, to the relief of everyone watching, time reset itself prior to the explosion and began to loop, giving the crew the opportunity to avoid the destruction of the Enterprise. The only problem? There was no Bill Murray to alert them to the fact that they were repeating the same day, over and over — making it a far more difficult task for them to extract themselves from it. In fact, it takes about half the episode before any of the characters realized something was wrong, with their days starting to feel a little too familiar.
They eventually exit the loop, after Data sends a message back to himself to bring the temporal causality to the attention of the Enterprise crew. Noticing a repetition of the number three, Data correctly connects this to the number of pips on Riker’s uniform, and executes Riker’s option for avoiding the collision that leads to the fatal explosion of their ship. With the event avoided, the loop was broken, and both the Enterprise and the Bozeman (the ship that had collided with them, and had been missing for 90 years) could continue on with their lives.
Of note, some airings of “Cause and Effect” also looped the commercials. Which, you have to admit, is a pretty clever way to keep messing with the audience outside of the show. Well played, Star Trek.
‘Supernatural,’ 3×11, ‘Mystery Spot’ — Caitlin Kelly
Supernatural‘s season 3 episode “Mystery Spot” is a heartbreaking masterpiece that features a deadly time loop. Every day, Sam wakes up to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and must watch Dean die. The loop resets each time Dean dies. Sam watches his brother die over a hundred times; his deaths are at times comical (bad tacos, attacked by a golden retriever) and at others tragic (hit by a speeding car) as Sam tries to prevent his death over and over but fails.
With Dean months away from being sent to Hell, the Trickster (who we now know to be the archangel Gabriel) targets Sam in an attempt to teach him a lesson: that the brothers’ willingness to die for each other is a weakness. But Sam doesn’t take the lesson to heart; when Dean dies permanently, Sam turns into a cold, ruthless hunter trying to bring his brother back. The Trickster realizes the futility of his efforts and ends the lesson. However, this foreshadows what Sam will become while Dean is in Hell between seasons 3 and 4.
What makes this episode work so well is its surprising tonal shift and its unexpected tie-in to the greater mythology. We go from a humorous montage of Dean’s various deaths to the pain of watching Sam’s descent into single-minded madness as he hunts the Trickster. Even after Dean is revived, Sam must face the fact that Dean will be leaving him in a few short months. And while Dean has no memory of his many deaths, Sam retains his memories of all of Dean’s deaths and the six months he spent hunting the Trickster. What started as a lighthearted mystery of the week turns into a gut-wrenching exploration of the brothers’ codependency and foreshadowing of things to come.