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20 TV Shows Most Influenced by ‘Twin Peaks’

From surreal murder mysteries and quirky small-town sitcoms to ‘The X-Files’ – these series owe David Lynch’s cult show a serious debt

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. 

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‘Northern Exposure’

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 neighbors to the south … though distinctly less sinister. JS

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‘The OA’

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

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‘Picket Fences’

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

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‘Riverdale’

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

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‘The Sopranos’

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

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‘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

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‘True Detective’

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

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‘Veronica Mars’

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

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‘Wayward Pines’

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

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‘Wild Palms’

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

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‘The X-Files’

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 TP environs). 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

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