Groundhog Day is many things. For sure, it’s a much-loved, classic comedy of the 1990s and one that stars Bill Murray at that. That should be enough to make it noteworthy.
But it’s also a genre-defining movie. The tale of man doomed to relive the same day, day after day, no matter what he does, it is much emulated. If you watch as many TV shows as I do, you’ll notice that pretty much every long-running sci-fi show will do a Groundhog Day episode, whether it’s Stargate SG-1, Dark Matter, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Doctor Who, Fringe, Star Trek: Discovery, 12 Monkeys, Supernatural, The X-Files or Travelers, to name but a few.
Indeed, I’ve seen so many now, it feels like I’m in my own TV Groundhog Day, and one of my golden laws of sci-fi TV is that any sufficiently long-running sci-fi show will eventually do a Groundhog Day episode of its own.
So iconic is Groundhog Day that most shows don’t even try to hide what they’re doing and will even namecheck It. It’s also made it into the dictionary now.
Not Groundhog Day
Look up at the first part of that definition and you’ll suddenly remember that Groundhog Day is named after a real-life event celebrated in the US on February 2, in which a groundhog is used to predict the weather (this year: an early spring). So kudos to Netflix on three scores.
First, for releasing Russian Doll, its version of Groundhog Day, on February 1, just in time for the actual Groundhog Day, but with no fanfare pointing this out.
Second, for not mentioning Groundhog Day throughout the eight episodes, despite having a computer game designer as a heroine who drops copious mentions of other genre movies and TV shows.
And third, for doing something that while having much in common with Groundhog Day somehow manages to do something surprisingly different with its central time loop.
Given the need for there to be some cause for a time loop, most shows that use ‘the Groundhog Day’ scenario are by their very nature sci-fi shows, with the likes of Daybreak being one of the very few exceptions – until now.
But beyond a slight horror theme that gets more and more pronounced until the surprisingly disturbing seventh episode, Russian Doll is actually a dark relationship comedy. Co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne plays the eponymous Russian Doll and Bill Murray of the piece, ‘Nadia Vulvokov’. When the action starts, she’s at her 36th birthday party and there appears to be a vortex in her bathroom, not that she pays much attention to it. At the party, she meets a guy called Mike (Jeremy Lowell Bobb) and hooks up with him. However, on the way home, she’s hit by a taxi… and killed.
And is back in the bathroom again. What’s going on, why is this happening, how can she escape from the loop and how many times will she have to die along the way?