What is a ‘Time Loop’?
In this article, we want to talk about dramas with a very specific plot device called ‘Groundhog Day Time Loop’. According to TvTropes, it is a type of plot in which the characters, due to some inexplicable circumstances, are forced to repeat a certain period of time over and over again, until they figure out how to break the cycle.
This trope was named after the 1993 American movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, in which a television weather presenter is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event held in a small town in Pennsylvania, but becomes trapped in a time loop and has to relive February 2nd repeatedly. Although the concept of time loops can be traced back to the year 1904, the commercial success of this movie popularized the trope to the general public. Since then, there have been many other movies, TV series, and dramas which have made use of this kind of plot.
To make things as simple as possible, and not to cause confusion for our readers, in the further parts of this article we will refer to the ‘Groundhog Day Time Loop’ trope as it’s more simple and common name of ‘Time Loop’ trope.
Why do we like this trope?
Goxia: There are a few reasons why the Time Loop trope in TV series and dramas appeals to me. When the characters are forced to repeat the same period of time, they usually attempt to change the way they go about their lives in every loop iteration, trying to find the right ‘settings’, a sequence of events, or a specific goal to accomplish in order to break the loop and finally move into the future – so it resembles a computer game! Only here, the players are playing with their own lives, which makes it more exciting, at least from the viewer’s point of view. 🙂
Another reason why I like this trope is that it provides a great opportunity to explore the mentality of the characters. How quickly will they be able to find a solution to their situation? Won’t they break down after so many repetitions and unsuccessful attempts at disrupting the loop? What will happen if they give up? Or maybe they actually don’t want to break out, but rather to relive this time period again and again? If so, why would they do that? It is fascinating to watch the characters’ journeys in Time Loop plots, and it always makes me think about what my own reactions would be if I found myself in a similar situation.
Size15FeetJames: I love watching the chaos that unfolds when you see a character(s) trying everything and anything they can do, like a lunatic, ultimately for their effort to once again go in vain, and to end up right at the same starting point as they were before. But due to this, their strategic attempts of breaking the time loop that they have found themselves trapped in, really ties me in emotionally, and makes me want to root for that character, especially after seeing them develop into a stronger, and normally, more humble being.
But what also interests me is the intrigue of the time loop: sometimes… they give up. Sometimes, after so many attempts, their attitude changes and they decide that they want to live in a time loop that will last forever. That’s another reason why I love time loops: their unpredictable nature. The character has their fate in their own hands, and you never know what journey they will take in the face of a time loop.
I also love the Time Loop trope not just for the amazing character development it can show, but also for the totally different emotions that the trope can make me feel: if done in a comedic way, and it’s sheer ridiculousness doubled ‘down to a t’, Time Loop plots are honestly the most fun times I’ve ever had while watching. The fact that a Time Loop story can be anything more than just a little comedy may seem peculiar… but trust me, when a Time Loop drama is perceived to be serious and is shown to be legitimate and significant, it can be done so, so well. So well in fact, you may even forget that time loops don’t actually exist in the real world. ^^
Isn’t repeating the plot boring, though?
If, after reading our explanations about why we like Time Loop plots, you are still not convinced if this kind of story in a drama could be interesting to you, you are probably worried about one issue: how is it possible that ‘repeating the plot’ episode after episode does not make the viewer bored?
Well, it is a valid concern! In our opinion, that is exactly the biggest challenge for the creators of stories which include a time loop. Still, there are different methods to deal with this problem:
- Make the events of each iteration of the loop significantly different from the others;
- Put the focus of your story on continuous attempts of breaking out of the loop, which would make it look like an exciting computer game or a thrilling mystery to solve;
- Set your main story inside only one iteration of the time loop, with optional brief flashbacks to the earlier iterations;
- Focus on the character development and make us root for the main leads; even though the plot gets repeated, make the characters approach the same events with different attitudes.
These are just a few examples of how to make a Time Loop story interesting; we are sure that many of our readers could come up with even more ideas! In the next section of this article we recommend our favourite dramas with time loops, and hopefully we will convince you that they utilize this trope in various and engaging manners!
Examples of Our Favourite Time Loop Dramas
Goxia’s Selection: Ashita mo Kitto Kimi ni Koi wo Suru.
Release Date/Year: 2016
Main Actors: Mackenyu, Nimura Sawa, Yanagi Shuntaro
Episodes: 4 x 20 minutes
This is a very short drama, so I am not going to spoil the plot too much (and I do not recommend reading the synopsis on MDL!). Just to give you a general idea: the story starts with two strangers meeting in an art gallery and feeling an almost instant and quite miraculous connection, which leads them to spending the rest of the day together. Not everything is what it seems though, and someone is stuck in a 24-hour time loop.
Despite repeating parts of the plot, the drama kept me interested by offering a few little twists here and there, as well as by focusing on the desperation, fears, obsession and, eventually, personal growth of the main character, induced and guided by the numerous repetitions of the same day. It was also easy to empathise with what the characters were going through.
(Please Note: the drama is labeled as 18+, and it does include a brief sex scene, though nothing very explicit.)
Goxia’s Selection: Let Me Off The Earth
Country: South Korea
Release Date/Year: 2020
Main Actors: Cho Han Gyeol, Park Ye Jin, Ahn Se Min, Kim Ji Woo
Episodes: 45 x 13 minutes
This web drama can be considered a rather less typical example of a Time Loop story, if only because of the fact that the characters repeat not just one day, but a three-year-long period of time (from the first day of high school to graduation day)!
The main story presents only one iteration of the time loop, but we get brief flashbacks of the events that happened during previous loops. What makes this one chosen iteration special is that a new, unexpected element suddenly appears inside the loop and changes the status quo, although it doesn’t automatically guarantee that the loop itself can finally be broken.
Even though the whole story is framed by a time loop, it is first and foremost a slice-of-life high school drama! We follow an ensemble of characters through their highs and lows of the high school years. Individual storylines deal with themes such as poverty, loneliness, rumours, bullying, friendships, crushes, sudden changes and fears for the future.
In my opinion, it would be an engaging coming-of-age drama even without the Time Loop plot; however, adding this trope was a brilliant idea that spiced the story up and made it stand out among other high school dramas, but without taking away any characteristics of the genre.
Size15FeetJames’s Selection: One More Time
Country: South Korea
Release Date/Year: 2016
Main Actors: Kim Myung Soo, Yoon So Hee
Episodes: 8 x 30 minutes
You never know what you have, until you lose it. That’s how you could explain One More Time – it shows to appreciate every moment in life and the people we share those moments with. Take people for granted, and you’ll realise that you start to lose what you love the most.
The ML (Kim Myung Soo) is a slightly brash indie singer who plays in a band with his friends who he had met in school, always wanting something different to what he has, despite already having a loving and loyal girlfriend, and great friends. But money takes away his logical thought process. Then, he decides to make a drastic change in his life, and the time loop begins.
I won’t go any further regarding the plot, but what I can say is that it’s such an underrated drama in which the Time Loop trope plays a perfect role. It also shows that a Time Loop drama can be used sensibly when intersected with darker themes such as: depression, suicide and fate.
Size15FeetJames’s Selection: The Light in Your Eyes
Country: South Korea
Release Date/Year: 2019
Main Actors: Han Ji Min, Kim Hye Ja, Nam Joo Hyuk
Episodes: 12 x 60 minutes
While Time Manipulation is the bigger player in this drama compared to its similar relative of a Time Loop, the Time Loop trope still has great importance in this emotional drama that has won awards such as Best Supporting Actress and a Grand Prize, both respectively at the 55th Baeksang Arts Awards.
Using a mysterious watch to control time in order to prevent an accident ages the FL from 26 to 70 years of age, but that’s not the end of the twist and turns. Don’t worry, I won’t go any further, so rest assured you can watch it in peace. ^^
The Light in Your Eyes would be a great drama to start off with, as the amount of screen time the Time Loop trope receives here isn’t the main point, but how it is used, and how it brings the story together. Due to the inclusion of a time loop, you will experience how fast-paced and action packed the story will become, and the change in the mentality of the characters involved. However, as the Time Loop trope here isn’t used too much, and only for reasons of necessity, it creates a great balance which can definitely be appreciated by many viewers.
A Suggestion for Beginners
Like anything in life, when you try something for the first time to see whether you like it or not, it’s wise to start off with something in a small dose, instead of throwing yourself straight into the deep end. So, with that being said, we have chosen one drama to begin with if you have never experienced a Time Loop story before, and want to test out the waters before diving in too deeply.
And when we say ‘starting with a small dose’, we truly mean a small dose. In fact, it’s only the first episode of a miniseries, in which one episode is roughly only twenty minutes long! Some may say that a singular twenty-minute episode may not be enough to find out whether you find a liking to Time Loop dramas, but with this kind of plot we are pretty sure it will be a fair amount of time for you to decide: yes or no!
Til Death Do Us Part
Release Year: 2019
Main Actors: Lin He Xuan
Episodes: 7 x 20 minutes
The story is about a seemingly reserved detective who is stuck in a time loop where he finds himself walking home from work to be a victim of a hit-and-run, and ends up dying – but always finds himself back at his workplace (the starting point of the time loop). This eventual time loop has a twist too juicy to spoil, but the detective is still determined to figure out how to escape, no matter the cost.
If you’re like us after watching it, you’ll be begging for an entire series expanded from this one episode, and thus we will be happy that we have led you to the start of your journey of discovering one of the most underrated tropes in television history! Welcome! ^^
An Upcoming Time Loop Drama
Release Date/Year: Unknown
Main Actors: Bai Jing Ting, Angel Zhao
Episodes: 20 x 45 minutes
Reset, an upcoming thriller sci-fi Chinese Drama with a Time Loop plot, explores the trope in not just one intriguing way, but two:
Whilst in a time loop that has always resulted in the FL’s (Angel Zhao) death, what happens when death is escaped by bringing in another person (the ML of Bai Jing Ting) into the loop?
But it doesn’t stop there. What if there is more than one time loop – a completely separate time loop that is still connected to the first one? What about a deliveryman who cannot complete all of his deliveries, as the last parcel is in the name of the ML?
Reset looks to take the Time Loop trope and make it into their own by including two different time loops set in the same world, which, if done correctly, has a potential to become a fascinating story to watch. It will be interesting to see if the characters in their own respective time loops will realise about one another’s situation or if one time loop will change the direction of the other.
While, as of writing this article, the release date is unconfirmed, filming for Reset wrapped up on 6th August 2021. The drama is produced by Daylight Entertainment Production Company.
Fun Fact: Daylight Entertainment Production Company also produced hit Chinese Dramas such as Nirvana in Fire and All is Well. If that’s anything to go by, you wouldn’t want to miss checking out Reset!
We hope that you enjoyed reading our article and are now aware of what the Time Loop trope is, why including it makes the stories interesting and fun, and in which dramas to find it! ^^
Edited by: Tine (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)