When Twin Peaks signed off on June 10th, 1991, it left behind a lot of unanswered questions, a legion of devoted fans – and a serious impact on the medium. Ever since then, showrunners and writing rooms have looked to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s “Peyton Place on acid” series for examples on how to push the boundaries of small-screen serial storytelling. It’s cast a long, long shadow, and you could argue that almost every other TV show that’s hit the airwaves since then – especially in the premium-cable “Prestige” age – has been influenced by the groundbreaking show. We’re not living in the Peak TV era so much as the Peaks TV era.
There have been a handful of mysteries, melodramas and quirky comedies, however, that owe a bigger or more obvious debt to this story of secret lives and curdled small-town Americana than most. We’ve singled out 20 TV shows – some old, some new, some niche, some network hits – that have borrowed elements of Twin Peaks and run with them. It may be the “Dead Girl” catalyst that’s turned into a television trope, or it might be the oddball denizens that populate an out-of-the-way woodsy burg. It could even just be a weird-as-hell vibe that a series shares with Lynch and Frost’s lysergic primetime soap. But all of these well-known series have certainly built off the weird, the wonderful and often WTF Peaks foundation.
By Scott Tobias, Jenna Scherer, Jennifer Wood, Tim Grierson, Kory Grow, Sean T. Collins, Gina McIntyre, Brian Tallerico.
It’s not just the Pacific Northwest setting or the vision of parents and teenagers with murderous intent that ties this underrated prequel-ish riff on Psycho with its small-screen ancestor. Just as Peaks took viewers to the other side of the tracks, Bates Motel tapped into that undercurrent of criminal behavior lurking behind the postcard-beautiful pine trees. It also shares the wonderfully anachronistic DNA of the Lynch/Frost show – characters who seem not just born in the wrong era but flung out of a pop culture vision of a time that never actually was. BT
Although this British detective series never flirts the supernatural or surrealism, its depiction of an otherwise nice, small-town community ravaged by the death of an 11-year-old echoes Twin Peaks in its characters’ finger-pointing, paranoia and fear of their dark sides being dragged out into the light. It’s often driven by the friction of its lead detectives, the tic-driven outsider Alec Hardy (former Doctor Who star David Tennant), and local constable/friend of the victim’s family Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) – whose relationship at times bears a strong resemblance to the dynamic between Agent Cooper and Sheriff Harry S. Truman. Broadchurch‘s first season ranks among the best-written stand-alone runs in recent TV history (the less said about the American remake Gracepoint, the better), and its one of the rare series on the list that acknowledges its influences but doesn’t necessarily feel overwhelmed or eclipsed by them. KG
Given David Lynch’s penchant for “freaks,” it would be easy to guess that writer-producer Daniel Knauf’s HBO dramaabout a traveling carnival troupe had some Peaks-like qualities. (Its ensemble cast included Lynch regular Michael J. Anderson, who played The Man From Another Place.) But Carnivàle‘s connection goes beyond its crossover cast member; you can see TP‘s influence in the series’ slow pacing, supernatural elements and macabre themes. And like Lynch’s show, it suffered from a premature cancellation that left a slew of unanswered questions. “I’ve been calling it Twin Peaks with logic,” Anderson said back in 2003. “The plot slowly unfolds with layers and layers and surprises deep inside.” JW
Blessed with an inspiringly sleazy series title – seriously, how could viewers resist? – showrunner Marc Cherry’s zeitgeist-tapping dramedy/mystery shared more with Twin Peaks than just their network, ABC. The show’s picket-fence logo was a nod to the sordid suburban sin and secrets of David Lynch’s Peaks period, one which the series itself more than lived up to. And Housewives’ ghostly narrator, the late Mary Alice Young, was voiced by TP alumna Brenda Strong – a replacement for the actress who played her in the pliot, Sheryl “Laura Palmer” Lee. STC
When writing partners Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci conceived their Fox sci-fi detective series about a team of mismatched investigators, David Lynch’s iconic show was on their mind. “Alex was a big Twin Peaks fan,” Orci said, “so he wanted that sort of surrealistic FBI element to it.” Co-created with J.J. Abrams, Fringe tapped into the same dark, off-kilter vibe, mirroring Twin Peaks‘ uneasy juxtaposition between the “ordinary” world and the frightening strangeness coursing underneath. And it wasn’t above making explicit references: In one episode, John Noble’s madman genius Walter Bishop mentions that some 3D glasses “were created by an old friend of mine: Dr. Jacoby from Washington State.” And in a later episode, his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) would find himself in an eerie, heavily forested small town famous for its delicious pies. (Diehard Twin Peaks fans also appreciated the episode’s title, “Northwest Passage” – the name Lynch originally used for his show.) TG
It’s easy to point to Hannibal‘s nightmare-fuel aspects and say that they never would have been allowed on network television without the ground broken by Bob and the One-Armed Man over two decades earlier. But there’s another aspect to this masterful program that owes a debt to ABC committing to Lynch’s vision: the concept of auteur-driven television. As much as Twin Peaks feels at one with the Lynch filmography, this take on Thomas Harris’ infamous cannibal doctor is fueled by the singular, surreal-as-hell vision of creator Bryan Fuller. Fans hope this show has the same fate as Peak: a movie and an eventual reboot. BT
Would the murder of girl-next-door-with-secret-sordid-life Rosie Larsen feel the same without the murder of Laura Palmer two decades before? When the first season of this American version of the Danish Scandi-noir series failed to resolve the investigation, it was impossible not to flashback to the end of Peaks‘ freshman year, when audiences raged at the lack of conclusion (it’s arguable neither show survived in the mainstream after that feeling of audience betrayal). Most of all, both shows were about the ripple effect of crime more than the actual crime itself – how a murder doesn’t just impact the friends and family of that person but an entire town. Not to mention that The Killing‘s Pacific Northwestern setting could not have been more evocative of Lynch’s version of woodsy Americana gone to rot. BT
It’s not the Black Lodge exactly – but dig that astral plane pad inside a super groovy ice cave/mind palace, the one complete with a rad hi-fi and some top-shelf booze. Extra-dimensional spaces are hardly the only thing that Noah Hawley’s exceedingly trippy, brilliant superhero show for FX shares with David Lynch’s exceedingly trippy, brilliant murder mystery. Both take place in a heightened reality that mostly resembles our own, both skillfully employ disconcerting imagery to fuel narrative tension, and both make the most of an otherworldly boogeyman who’s a real creep. In Legion’s case, it’s the shape-shifting parasite known as the Shadow King, a.k.a. the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, who lives inside his victim’s mind – the dictionary definition of what TP‘s possessed one-armed man described as a “parasite.” GM
J.J. Abrams’s genre-bending adventure/soap/whatsit brought weird mysteries to the mainstream, but it never could have gone as far down the side roads it did if Twin Peaks hadn’t paved the way. Lost initially seemed to be a character-driven survival drama about plane crash survivors stranded on a desert island. And then the story got far strange. Very strange. By the end of its six seasons, the series had incorporated elements of sci-fi, supernatural and the psycho-spiritual, with characters ranging from jittery physicists and charismatic cult leaders to, well, polar bears and Smoke Monsters. Much like Twin Peaks, the show raised many more questions than it ever took the trouble to answer. Luckily, we kind of loved basking in the confusion. JS
This CBS series premiered in July 1990, only a few months after Twin Peaks, first hit the airwaves – and this low-key comedy’s philosophical musings and detours made it the cheerier twin to Lynch’s darker show. Northern Exposure‘s Cecily, Alaska, may be at a slightly higher latitude than the Pacific Northwest, but it was just as chock-full of eccentrics. And its remote climes also welcomed in an outsider: Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow), a New York City doctor dispatched to the snowy north. The Log Lady probably wouldn’t feel out of place among the residents of the show’s kooks, who were no less strange than their neighbours to the south … though distinctly less sinister. JS
The question isn’t who killed Laura Palmer, but who, or what, is Prairie Johnson? New-age auteurs Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling (Sound of My Voice, The East) dreamed up Netflix’s mind-bending metaphysical series about a blind woman (played by Marling) who is discovered after a years-long disappearance with her sight restored. In clandestine meetings with four troubled teens and a high school teacher, she explains how she came by her new identity as the “OA” – an outrageous tale involving Russian oligarchy, near-death experiences and unlocking the door to heaven. A mysterious woman guarding a dark secret is a Lynchian staple; Batmanglij and Marling send that archetype tumbling like Alice down a spiritual rabbit hole. GM
For the past quarter century, TV has in large part been a tale of Davids, from Lynch to the triumvirate of Chase (The Sopranos), Simon (The Wire), and Milch (Deadwood). But there was once a time when David E. Kelly – the man behind Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, et al – was the biggest David of them all. His show Picket Fences was a reliably engaging crossbreed of police, legal and medical dramas, set in a strange small town in Wisconsin with more than its share of TP‘s goofiest charms. A stellar all-star cast – Tom Skerritt, Lauren Holly, Fyvush Finkel, Kathy Baker, Don Cheadle, Ray Walston, Marlee Matlin and more – helped insulate it from charges of quirk for quirk’s sake. STC
An Archie Comics adaptation that’s a self-conscious splice of sexy teen drama with paranormal paranoia? If there’s a Lodge where the dreams of TV critics reside, Riverdale sprang forth from it fully formed. The previously wholesome characters responsible for decades of G-rated comics and the bubble-gum pop of “Sugar Sugar” get the steamy, dark-underbelly-of-Americana treatment, as overseen by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Greg Berlanti, whose careers straddle the comics and TV worlds. The show’s fans don’t call this “HAWF” (Hot Archie Who Fucks) for nothing. And doesn’t that shot of the town’s “Welcome to Riverdale” sign look eerily familiar. STC
Creator David Chase has spoken at length about Twin Peaks as a primary influence on his show, specifically David Lynch and Mark Frost’s vivid evocation of place and how they expanded the possibilities for small-screen storytelling. But the more specific connection between the two shows comes in their surrealist dream sequences, which reflect the fear and anxiety that trouble the waking lives of their characters – and hint at the dark machinations that threaten their future. Without the backwards-talking dwarf in the Red Room, there might not have been Big Pussy as a talking fish. ST
‘Top of the Lake’
It should be said upfront that Jane Campion, the creator of this New Zealand-based murder mystery, Top of the Lake, has an idiosyncratic, independent sensibility of her own (see The Piano, Sweetie). But Twin Peaks has long been a useful road map for directors breaking into television, and the resemblance between the two series is uncanny: Both are warped whodunnits set in a remote mountain community, both are about the violation of young women, and both cast actors in their most eccentric roles – like Holly Hunter, who turns up here as an androgynous Swiss guru offering restorative therapy to middle-aged women. Trade Elisabeth Moss’ big-city detective for Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI agent and it’s practically a one-to-one exchange. ST
The discovery of a female corpse sends two homicide detectives on a surreal hunt for a mad man. Sound familiar? The astonishing first season of HBO’s crime anthology borrowed plenty of Peaks‘ menacing atmosphere, especially once Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) uncover an increasingly bizarre underworld of small-town corruption and sexual degradation involving an enigmatic “Yellow King.” The series also gave the world the phrase, “Time is a flat circle,” muttered by McConaughey’s existentially wrung-out investigator – which sounds like something a contemplative Agent Cooper might have muttered to himself over a slice of pie and a cup of black coffee at the Double R Diner. GM
The first season of Rob Thomas’ teen noir centered on the death of Lilly Kane, the daughter of a local billionaire murdered in the fictional beach town of Neptune, California. The corrupt local sheriff declares the case closed, but Lilly’s best friend, high schooler-turned-gumshoe Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), smells a rat. The show owes plenty to Twin Peaks: It’s noir aesthetic; its unorthodox detective protagonist giving us the play-by-play of her investigation; and most of all, a small town full of shady figures whose moral decay – and shadowy culture of sexual assault – goes all the way to the core. Bonus: Amanda Seyfried, who played Lilly, is also in cast of the Showtime Peaks reboot. JS
A U.S. Secret Service agent (Matt Dillon) sets out to investigate the deaths of two fellow agents in a remote Northwestern town where everyone acts superficially nice. It appears, however, that the residents of Wayward Pines, Idaho all have something to hide – not unlike the denizens of another quaint little locale a quarter century before them. (Even the title sounds vaguely Peaks-ish.) Based on novels by Blake Crouch, Fox’s show revealed itself to be sci-fi–inflected show with a twist; not for nothing is M. Night Shyamalan credited as a producer. Still, the Wholeseome-Town-USA-with-a-secret vibe? Pure Lynch. KG
Cinematic provocateur Oliver Stone spent the bulk of the Nineties crafting frenetic swipes at society’s sore spots, from JFK to Natural Born Killers. But he still found the time to collaborate with author Bruce Wagner for this feverishly surreal send-up of Scientology, virtual reality and the L.A. dream machine. Airing on four back-to-back nights on ABC two years after Twin Peaks‘ finale, the show shared its predecessor’s fixation on stunning brunettes (Dana Delaney, Bebe Newirth and a wig-wearing Kim Cattrall); rife with dream imagery, and dark glamour, it seems due for a cult reappraisal any second now. Co-stars Robert Loggia and Jim Belushi would go on to star in Lynch’s Lost Highway and the new Twin Peaks season, respectively. STC
Two years after David Duchovny played Peaks‘ cross-dressing DEA agent Dennis/Denise Bryson,he was cast as a more straight-laced G-man obsessed with the paranormal – and ended up becoming part of a Nineties pop-cultural touchstone. In many ways, The X-Files‘ first season felt like a supersized Twin Peaks: not one but two FBI agents investigating any number of strange happenings in quaint small towns (much of which was shot in Vancouver, near the original TPenvirons). Although they never discover anything as surreal as the Black Lodge, they encountered monsters and aliens frightening enough to make even square-jawed Agent Cooper flinch. In fact, the shows were similar enough that Peaks fans quickly spread rumors of Mulder keeping a photo of Laura Palmer above his desk in the first season, though it was merely a lookalike … wrapped in plastic. KG