Parallel lives

Cristin Milioti as Sarah and Andy Samberg as Nyles in the final moments of “Palm Springs.”(Jessica Perez / Hulu)

Upon watching SNL alum Andy Samberg’s new vehicle Palm Springs on Hulu (recommended), I began to wonder if the recent spate of “time loop” narratives is a sign of our collective soul grappling with these concepts, perhaps preparing for something. Or maybe just intensely wishing for another dimension where things are going differently, a reality we can almost pierce. If you believe – or entertain the belief – that culture creates its art according to what haunts its dreams, then you too may be wondering: why an increasing amount of mainstream content about time not being what we think it is?

Like the seminal Groundhog Day (OK, 1993, but in cosmic terms, “recent”) and Russian Doll (2019, Netflix, worth your time) Palm Springs is a story of people – in this case, like Russian Doll, a couple – forced to relive the same day over and over again. A clean slate, every time they fall asleep. A different universe with all the same people, locations, history, etc, waiting for them when they awake. The reasons for this are never made clear, but it is tantalizing nonetheless. The premise creates a reality in which original dramatic situations can occur. I.e., the usual rules of cause and effect, of consequences do not apply in the same way. It gets pretty funny.

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The narrative tricks of Palm Springs, and its ilk, often put me in a not-unpleasant state akin to dreaming, another realm where time as we consciously know it (an illusion, but I digress), radically changes.

It may seem overly complex as entertainment, but once you relax, your mind adjusts surprisingly well. Perhaps this is some evolutionary percolating going on en masse, preparing us for something our ancestors could not begin to conceive, just as they couldn’t, and didn’t, use the word “relatively.” The notion of something being “relative” – thank you, Einstein – was not a thing in the general populous until the late twentieth century.

Complicated or not, the aforementioned projects’ mainstream success is inarguable. Maybe we are about to take another step as a species. As recipients of tales from storytellers bent over laptops trying to get our attention, we are increasingly ready.

It’s not just these aforementioned entertainments. Other successful mainstream projects that deal with parallel dimensions/time distortion: the OA (2016, on Netflix,), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and Sliding Doors (1998). These are just movies/shows. Books abound, too.

Adding fuel to these notions is the brouhaha over a 2020 report from NASA about strange findings “at the quantum level” where the rules of physics as we know them appear to be different. (Google it.) Media outlets spun this into “evidence of a parallel universe found where time runs backwards!” which, although not quite true, is remarkable in that it blew up in the mainstream press and, of course, online. Evidently, nobody said, “Parallel what?”

Then came the pandemic, and attention was focused elsewhere. But our collective interest in something significant transpiring just beyond our ability to comprehend is sharper than ever.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.