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"Time Loop" Is A Genre

It's unavoidable that certain genres are going to have certain tropes. But there comes a point when a trope becomes so prevalent that it transcends into a genre itself. A great example of this are time loop stories. These are essentially stories that have a character stuck in a loop of time where they experience what is usually the same day or sequence of events over and over again. Other characters aren't aware of the loop, and it is typically up to the main character to figure out what is going on and break the loop. Although most time loop stories are centered around science fiction, where some scientific explanation, either through physics or technology, is the source of the loop, fantasy and magic can also be an explanation. But the mechanism for the loop isn't as important as the structure of the story itself.

 

The benchmark for all time loop stories has to be Groundhog Day. The movie, which stars Bill Murray, has an apathetic reporter stuck covering a Groundhog Day event over and over again no matter what he does. Murray's comedy drives the film, but it's also deeply philosophical as he has to contemplate his place in life. Most time loop stories don't try to tell some deep character journey, probably because Groundhog Day covers this material so well. Instead, they try to put a different spin and twist on the premise in order to keep it unique and original. Happy Death Day is a good example as it takes the concept of a t'ime loop and places it in the setting of a comedic slasher film. The movie was so successful at its premise that a sequel was developed that actually delves into the origins of the loop, which are never discussed in the original.

 

Most time loop stories, however, aren't in films. They are episodes of television. Sci-fi and fantasy shows have a lot more opportunities to explore different premises, so it only makes sense that some of those episodes would be time loops. Stargate, Doctor Who, Dark Matter, and The Magicians are all examples of shows that have explored time loops, but they are far from the only ones. The key is to put a twist or spin on the premise to make it stand out and provide the viewer, who is presumably a fan of time loops, with something new for the genre. A nice example is the Star Trek Discovery episode "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad." The story is about a thief who utilizes a time loop to have infinite tries of stealing what he wants from the Discovery. However, one of the crew members is immune to the loop and tries to stop him. What's great about the episode is that the primary protagonist isn't the person experiencing the loop. The viewer gets to see several loops, but the vast majority of them go unnoticed by the audience, and so the story places them in the shoes of the characters who have no idea what is going on. It's a nice addition to an overused premise that has evolved beyond the status of a trope and into the category of genre.

 

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