Groundhog Purgatory: Redemption by Do-Overs

The clock ticks around and the alarm in the form of I Got You Babe asking Cher to put her little hand in Sony’s.

Groundhog Purgatory: Redemption by Do-Overs
Image © Can Stock Photo / magann

The clock ticks around and the alarm in the form of I Got You Babe asking Cher to put her little hand in Sony's. Once again, Bill Murray wakes up in the little town of Punxsutawney, and once again it is Groundhog Day. This is a story most of us know. Bill plays an unpleasant weatherman who has the worst day of his life and gradually learns to be a better person by having that day happen again and again and again.

That's the first one I know of, and that's why I'm calling this particular trope Groundhog Purgatory. Between then and now, there have been a few uses of this trope. A series in which the heroine gets "do-over days" by the intervention of murdered bodies in the morgue in which she works asking for help. Following that, there's Russian Doll in which the heroine repeats her birthday until she helps someone she just met on that day.

Spoiler warning for these things. Obviously.

I find it interesting that the gender presentation of the heroes is overwhelmingly leaning towards the female. Perhaps the scriptwriters prefer narratives in which troubled men only have to learn to accept themselves. In the later iterations of Do-Over Girl [I forget the name of this short-lived series] and Russian Doll, the battle is with mortality. In the original Groundhog Day, deaths are played for laughs.

In all of these examples, the protagonist is forced to re-live a single day. The circumstances change, and the reasons why are never fully explained. Hence the 'purgatory' half of this article title. The Protagonist has a lesson to learn, something to fix - including themselves, and mistakes to remedy.

It could be something of a power fantasy - how many times have we wished for a chance to do something all over again, but a different way? Which means that the wish fulfilment becomes a Monkey's Paw kind of deal, where the blessing almost instantly becomes a curse.

Frankly, if I was landed in that situation, it would take me a subjective month to realise it. I'm both that forgetful and that clueless, and I heartily recommend it for the next Groundhog Drama. Being unable to keep notes would firkin kill someone like me.

Back to my point.

We always start these things with a collection of mistakes. Accidents, social flubs, a general series of unfortunate events unrelated at all to the Baudelaire Children. A disaster of one form or another provides the spark. For Bill, it was the worst day. For our ladies, the catastrophe is death: the death of a friend, and the death of herself.

In all these Groundhog Dramas, death is the automatic trigger for a do-over. Bill's in-movie suicides, Groundhog Girl's calls to action, and Russian Doll's numerous and increasingly unlikely ends. Death is the greatest mistake to undo, and therefore the biggest thing to fight. It's such a Christian narrative, becoming alive again, following death.

It's no surprise, then, that this narrative comes out of a largely Christian culture. Death (and massive inconvenience) must be fought with what looks like a miracle, but is also potentially a curse. The redemption is also vital. The protagonist is flawed; in the case of Groundhog Girl, she makes huge mistakes before her do-over days. In the case of Bill and Doll, they are deeply flawed human beings with vices galore and bad coping strategies to overcome.

For Groundhog Girl, the series was merely cancelled. We got no real resolution there, alas. Therefore I have to leave her out of the comparison.

The resolution/redemption/resurrection happens, as it inevitably happens in Western Media, happens through true love. Yay. Bill becomes the Perfect Man for one night (we're not allowed to ask about the days after that particular Groundhog Day) and wins the girl. Doll rescues the original version of the Groundhogg'd fellow she'd met in her misadventures, just like he managed to save her original version et cetera.

In the latter, there's a truly surreal scene where the universes merge, Closing Doors style. In the former, it's a fake-out and the miracle of the morning after. Nevertheless, true love is the key to breaking the endless cycle of start, try, learn, and start again.

At least the Doll take on Groundhog Redemption is less creepy-stalkerish and more like an actual relationship than Bill's journey in Groundhog Day. I mean, come on. Bill's character is the epitome of the creepy dude attempting method after method until the prize girl gives in and surrenders to his charms. Never happens in real life. Just so you know.

So far, I know of only three of these Groundhog Dramas. I'll be looking for more of them as time passes me by.