Holy shit. Twin Peaks turns 20 next month.
We are all olllllllld and dyyyyyyyyying.
But that aside, this anniversary is a big fucking deal, as our esteemed vice president might say. Twin Peaks has a much larger shadow than most people realize, especially considering it was only on the air for a season and a third.
Twenty years later, I’m still stunned that an American television network gave David Lynch (who had flopped miserably with Dune, his only other attempt at mainstream fare) his own weekly series. David Lynch! Severed-ear, nitrous-huffing David Lynch.
To put that in perspective, here are a few tidbits about the television season during which Twin Peaks debuted:
- Other shows on airing on ABC, Twin Peaks’ network, included: Mr. Belvedere, Just the Ten of Us, Who’s the Boss, MacGyver, Colombo, Family Matters and B.L. Stryker.
- The biggest risk ABC had taken in recent years was giving John Ritter an hour-long “dramedy” called Hooperman. And it tanked.
- Top 20 shows included: Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, Hunter, Unsolved Mysteries, Empty Nest, and the despicable Chicken Soup with Jackie Mason.
In short, this was a different era. There were no edgy sitcoms, engaging serial dramas (other than pure nighttime soaps), or genre-crossing shows. Everything had a simple, high-concept hook. Everything was familiar. Some of it was good, sure, but network television took no chances.
So adding David Lynch to that landscape was like introducing Newtonian physics to Medieval England or playing Rage Against the Machine at a speakeasy in the ’20s.
Unlike some of Lynch’s films, Twin Peaks made some passes at mainstream accessibility, but that didn’t change the fact that the bulk of the show was impressively, aggressively weird. Even before its second season, when Peaks leaked viewers weekly and introduced numerous supernatural elements, the typical Peaks episode featured dialogue, characters and plotlines that you just didn’t see on television.
Now, it’s important to draw a distinction between “weird” and “quirky.” Twin Peaks had elements of both. Quirky: a lady who carries around a log, Nadine’s fixation on silent drape runners, Andy & Lucy’s romance. Quirky is non-threatening. Northern Exposure and Ally McBeal were quirky (and both directly influenced by Twin Peaks). But I’m more interested in the true, deep weirdness: the violent, sexual undertones that ran through the entire series, the deep psychoses within the main characters, the Blue Velvet-style peek behind the curtains of small-town Americana.
It’s easy to spot Twin Peaks’ direct descendants: the aforementioned Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, Lost. But shows as wide-ranging as CSI, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Sopranos all have some Twin Peaks DNA in their bloodstreams. David Lynch and Mark Frost brought a cinematic scope to TV, and that kicked opened doors for writers and showrunners permanently.
Twin Peaks was also completely unclassifiable. It was outlandishly funny, horrifically frightening and genuinely heart-wrenching. It contained elements of sitcoms, Peyton Place, Hill Street Blues and Eraserhead. And it was the show that violently ushered me into the adult word, at least in terms of pop culture. It was the first piece of entertainment that I loved as an adult instead of as a kid, like the difference between puppy love and the first time you legitimately fall for someone. I would have the same experience in music a couple years later with R.E.M., but Twin Peaks was my real coming of age.
It was also the first piece of pop culture that I used to brand myself: being a Twin Peaks fan became part of my identity. I liked Twin Peaks, and that spoke to who I was as a person. Still does.
Pop Candy has a great piece today featuring clips from 10 of the show’s classic moments.
To those, I’d only add this one. Albert Rosenfeld’s finest hour:
Happy anniversary, TP. Without you, we wouldn’t have David Duchovny, Heather Graham, or the most disappointing movie of all time.