Every year on February 2, while many participate in the tradition of waiting for Punxsutawney Phil to reveal what kind of winter we’ll have, some people partake in the tradition of watching the classic Bill Murray comedy, Groundhog Day, about a grumpy weatherman reliving the same day repeatedly. This year, however, there’s a new addition to the “do-over” time loop canon: Netflix’s Russian Doll.
In Russian Doll, Nadia, a curmudgeonly video game developer (played by Natasha Lyonne, a co-creator of the series) reluctantly celebrating her 36th birthday wakes up standing at the sink in the bathroom of her friend’s art installation-slash-home. After she leaves her birthday party thrown by her two best friends, Lizzy and Maxine (played by Greta Lee, who steals absolutely every scene she’s in with her deft timing and delivery), she gets hit by a car and wakes up in the exact same spot as before, forced to live the night over and over again.
Where many similar narratives before it have failed or just narrowly missed their marks, Russian Doll succeeds at being so much more than just a simplistic riff on Groundhog Day. The series is a clever meditation on self-destructive behavior, linear and nonlinear conceptions of time, morality and what it means to be a “good” person, and the very human need to be connected to one another, nestled neatly inside of a conceit most audiences are familiar with thanks to Harold Ramis’ 1992 film. Over eight episodes, it becomes a delight to watch Nadia attempt to break her cycle, and there are as many gratifying twists and turns in the story that one could possibly want.
Now, Russian Doll is certainly not the first to take on this premise, and not even the most recent. Groundhog Day-adjacent narratives can come in many flavors—horror films, science fiction tales, even romantic comedies—and with that being said, we offer a syllabus of sorts for those looking for more films and shows that employ the “re-living the same day repeatedly” trope.
Happy Death Day
The Blumhouse slasher-comedy revolves around a narcissistic sorority girl who keeps getting murdered by a masked killer on her birthday, and must confront her past behaviors and solve her death, over and over again. Happy Death Day may not be a perfect riff on the do-over trope, but it does playfully pay homage to both Groundhog Day and Scream. As an added bonus, this one has a sequel coming out February 13.
The Good Place
If the prospect of a “twist” is what attracts you to Russian Doll, then consider The Good Place, which has plenty that will not be divulged in this space so as to protect you further from the big spoilers that occur in every season of that show. Or maybe it’s the concept of a “do-over” that draws you in. Another similarity between The Good Place and Russian Doll are both series’ takes on tackling what constitutes ethical and moral behavior and making futile gestures towards fathoming the afterlife. Russian Doll does a good job of not placing too many weighty moral expectations on its characters. Sure, Nadia may not have always acted as a good person in her life, but she does bring up a good point when shutting down the “morally simplistic and narcissistic” view that she’s stuck in this loop as karmic retribution or “purgatorial punishment for being a bad person” because the fallacy of thinking the universe being “moral” and sharing a singular person’s view on morality. That lesson sounds an awful lot like something Chidi would try to explain to Eleanor on an episode of The Good Place.
Netflix’s “choose your own adventure” film from the creators of Black Mirror, is a perfect example of how this sort of trope can go wrong. It attempts to address some of the same metaphysical issues—loops of self-destruction, unconventional conceptualizations of time, even the main characters (Nadia in Russian Doll and Stefan in Bandersnatch) are both video game designers tasked with understanding the limits of free will—but where Russian Doll allows viewers to sit back and let the characters make their own bad (and sometimes good) decisions to figure things out, Bandersnatch feels heavy-handed and cloying with its mission. Most audiences want watching television to be a passive activity, which could be another reason playing with Bandersnatch and its different narratives quickly becomes a vexing experience for the viewer.
Before I Fall
Based on a novel of the same name, this film stars Zoey Deutch as a high school named Sam who continues to live the last day of her life after she dies in a car crash when leaving a party. The narrative is born from a sometimes-schmaltzy young adult novel, so of course Sam tries to cheat death and can only end the loop once she corrects some of her behavior amongst her peers, but the story doesn’t end the way you think it will.
Run Lola Run
Run Lola Run is a thrilling German-language film from 1998 that incites a rise in heart rate for the viewer as much as it incites envy in the titular character’s Tomb Raider-esque outfit. Lola has 20 minutes to recover 100,000 francs for her boyfriend or else he’ll be killed. The clock resets every time she cannot complete her task, much like a video game, as the narrative asks the viewer to question their notions of fate, chance, and chaos theory.
50 First Dates
Okay, so in 50 First Dates Drew Barrymore’s character technically just has amnesia and isn’t actually* re-living each day over and over again due to some invention from the cosmos (or elsewhere), but it is a do-over narrative, and a win for romantic comedies in general, which gives it a place on this list.
It should go without saying that the originator of this trope would be recommended viewing for anyone who is about to watch or has just watched Russian Doll.