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How Twin Peaks Changed TV Forever

The final season of the legendary Twin Peaks was at times arduous and perhaps slightly haphazard but as Agent Cooper made his return to the Red Room, a place of purgatory outside Twin Peaks, the spirit of Laura Palmer told him “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

It was the final scene of the weird and wonderful network show; the show which had struggled to keep the interest of its viewers after revealing that the killer of Laura was, in fact, her father. The great mystery had a resolution, but ratings dropped dangerously low. Cancellation, however, was a huge error on ABC’s part as they had a seminal piece of television in their hands – one which had great potential to appeal to a wider audience. Since then, it has become one of the U.S.’s biggest cult classics.

And here we are, 25 years later, gearing up for the return of the high-concept TV series. Diehard and new fans alike are being treated to 18 hours of adventure from the peculiar Pacific northwest. Fan favourites like the murderous demon Bob, detective Dale Cooper and Ronette Pulaski return alongside new faces, including big names Naomi Watts, Jim Belushi and Michael Cera. Lynch and Frost, the co-creators of Twin Peaks, have maintained an air of mystery when discussing the continuation but the hype has been huge. Clearly, the show is a big deal. But why is Twin Peaks considered such a classic? Some can’t fathom why the show holds such a huge place in people’s hearts.

Twin Peaks, having first aired in the very early 90s, came at a time where there was no Netflix or ‘binge-watching’ culture. The kooky, surreal episodes were left hanging in suspension until the following week where viewers would hope for answers. As well, the show touched base on a number of social narratives which were trending during the early 90s – the Pacific northwest, conspiracy theory shows and the obsession with the true crime documentary and serial killers. With Twin Peaks, several itches were scratched in terms of trends and the confusing plot lines (though criticised by some) contributed the mysterious nature.

Essentially, the show is an homage to a whole horde of genres and while I understand criticisms that the show is too banal, this is a clear intention by the creators i.e with the romance between James and Donna, and the characters’ lack of moral integrity. The goofiness, though, contrasts strongly with the unfolding darkness as the show progresses. I mean, the main plot point is that of a father having sex with – and then murdering – his own daughter, in a town which is seemingly so innocent that the deputy sheriff blubbers at crime scenes. The camp essence is so explicitly and inherently David Lynch, which is without a doubt one of the show’s great selling points.

The insane fanbase is still around because it was the first show which had the same stylistic and thematic ambitions found in cinema. The 1990s witnessed a gradual diversion in the quality of American television, with the likes of The Sopranos, Buffy and The X-Files transforming the uses and techniques of the medium.

David Lynch in particular, however, crafted Twin Peaks with an impressive three-dimensional quality rarely seen on the small screen – a contributing factor to the shows influential, cult status. Where television had previously lacked directorial innovation and aesthetics, Twin Peaks possessed a distinctly ‘Lynchian’ vibe. Over the years, Lynch has demonstrated an utter inability to do anything but stay true to his particular manner, despite industry pressures. The idea of ‘cinematic television’ is now one which is implemented left, right and centre, with Game of Thrones and Mad Men becoming major players in the contemporary television landscape.

The visual and dramatic influence of Twin Peaks can be felt more prominently in the television shows we’ve come to love of recent years with the likes of Bates Motel and Hannibal coming to mind. In Bates Motel, the idea of an enigmatic, oddball community with a dark underbelly is one which Twin Peaks carried very well. Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin, the show runners of Bates Motel, have even expressed how Twin Peaks explicitly inspired their stylistic intention, “we pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks. They only did 30 episodes. Kerry and I thought we’d do the 70 that are missing.” Whether or not the Showtime reboot will redeem the show’s rocky second season is yet to be seen, but the cultural impact which Twin Peaks’ has had on television has ensured that the excitement is palpable.

Twin Peaks returns to our screens May 21st, on Showtime.

Get Volume #18 here.

Words by Joseph Coupe

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