The Twin Peaks Aesthetics

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Twin Peaks was an American TV-series by David Lynch and Mark Frost, which was broadcast from 1990-91. The series, although short-lived, was a big success and captured a solid and devoted cult fan base and gained entrance into popular culture, where is has been featured and referenced in television shows, commercials, video games and films. Some even tried to make a similar series or even to rip-off the whole thing.

Maybe you have heard that the series will come back next year, 25 years after the last episode of the original was broadcast. Twin Peaks is, again, in the centre of attention. Let us, therefore, review the cult of Twin Peaks and discuss its impact on other series.

The Twin Peaks Aesthetics and Cult

For those of you who did not watch the series (which you definitely should), here is a short overview of the plot: Twin Peaks is an American small town near the Canadian border, where a murder of a young girl, Laura Palmer, has been committed. Due to its mysterious nature an FBI-agent, Dale Cooper, is set on the case. As the plot advances it seems that every inhabitant of Twin Peaks allegedly has a motive to have killed the girl. Due to its surrealistic character the series spawned an own set of symbols and a unique aesthetics:

Twin Peaks is consistent with Lynch’s work as a whole in that it is not easily placed within an established genre. Its unsettling tone and supernatural features are consistent with horror films, but its campy, melodramatic portrayal of quirky characters engaged in morally dubious activities reflects a bizarrely comical parody of American soap operas. Like the rest of Lynch’s oeuvre, the show represents an earnest moral inquiry distinguished by both weird humor and a deep vein of surrealism. [1]

Although it is hard to touch, the Twin Peaks aesthetics is all around. Yet, for people who have watched the series it is easy to identify elements from other media resembling Twin Peaks‘ influence. “This is sooo Twin Peaks” – this or similar sentences you will often hear in company of a Twin Peaks maniac.

Twin Peaks was short-lived, consisted of two seasons only. The reason for that is that Lynch and Frost were forced by the producers to solve the murder mystery – something the two never intended to do in the first place. After that a completely new plot had to be introduced, what was not particularly welcomed by the audience. As a consequence, Lynch lost interest in the project what lead, eventually, to the series’ expiration.

What makes Twin Peaks so different from other series is that the cult around it is still alive, even 25 years after the last episode was broadcast. The series, which is sometimes referred to as ‘mother of all series’, has become a modern American mythology. Through repetition and theorising about the plot the cult is kept alive, also capturing the interest of the younger generations.

André Savetier meets Dale Cooper for a coffee, by www.tintenfuchs.eu

André Savetier meets Dale Cooper for a coffee, by www.tintenfuchs.eu

Series Influenced by Twin Peaks

After Twin Peaks, series-making changed fundamentally. There is a whole set of other series embracing the surrealistic and bizarre, that we all love so. In the following five examples shall be examined further.

The X-Files

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Directly after the end of Twin Peaks, a series appeared on the scene which should become the dominant show of the 90s. The X-Files was the story of the agents Fox Mulder (David Duchvony) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who were responsible to solve mysterious cases for the FBI, often connected with extraterrestrial phenomena.

After Twin Peaks‘ agent Dale Cooper, Fox Mulder became the second iconic FBI-man of the 90s. Mysteries and the bizarre play a crucial part in both, Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Also, the setting of the mysterious occurrences in XF are often small towns and villages, where the local population is involved in the cases. Furthermore, quite some actors of the original Twin Peaks cast – besides Duchovny himself -are featured in the show.

Desperate Housewives

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The successful series Desperate Housewives starts with the suicide of an allegedly happy family mother and deals with the afterglow of her death, as well as rumours and strange secrets of the small town neighbourhood, where the series is set. Plenty of mysterious, surrealistic and bizarre moments advance the plot to a constantly complicated conglomerate of secrets, lies and gossip.

It is not hard to see the similarities with Twin Peaks. Instead of the town Twin Peaks the setting is a neighbourhood, where strange things are happening and the inhabitants have a lot to hide. The narrator of Desperate Housewives is the woman that committed suicide. The series even features Kyle MacLachlan, who played Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. Moreover, Twin Peaks‘ fans can easily find homages and references to their favourite tv-show.

Bates Motel

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Bates Motel is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film-classic Psycho and is intending to be the prequel to the film. It is the story of Norman Bates and his mother, Norma Bates, which shows the unhealthy relationship between mother and son and how Norman becomes more and more insane.

Carlton Cuse, executive producer and head writer of Bates Motel admitted: “We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks… If you wanted to get that confession, the answer is yes. I loved that show. They only did 30 episodes. Kerry [Ehrin] and I thought we’d do the 70 that are missing.” [2] Norman regularly has black-outs, during which he commits crimes, what is strongly reminiscent of Twin Peaks‘ Bob. Another parallel to Twin Peaks is the small town setting with all its secrets that are unearthed one by one.

Pretty Little Liars

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Pretty Little Liars is a series featuring four teenage girls (Aria, Emily, Spencer, Hanna) whose best friend Allison had suddenly disappeared during one night they were spending together in a barn. After the girl’s dead body is recovered, the four friends re-unite, trying to solve the murder mystery. By doing so, a mysterious villain, simply called “A” terrorises the girls, spoils their efforts considering the case and brings them in a lot of trouble. Each of the girls shared a secret with the deceased one.

The whole story of Pretty Little Liars reminds of the Twin Peaks‘ youngsters, who are trying to solve Laura’s murder on their own.
Again, the small town setting is reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The whole town is shaken up by Allison’s death like Twin Peaks through Laura Palmer’s death. And a lot of people have a motive to have killed the (not so innocent) girl… There are, actually, a lot more parallels to Twin Peaks, which I will not unveil.

Wayward Pines

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A secret service agent, Ethan Burke, has a car accident and wakes up imprisoned in a hospital. After escaping Burke finds himself in the mysterious town of Wayward Pines. Everything seems to be strange or “wrong” with this town. Burke wants to find out where he is, but the people he meets are acting very secretively. Getting away from Wayward Pines seems to be an impossible undertaking.

While the mystery in the first half of the series is quite evocative of Twin Peaks (small town, strange people, inexplicable weirdness of the inhabitants), Wayward Pines changes its direction crucially in the second half.

Conclusion

As we can see, Twin Peaks had a big impact on later series until today. Obviously, there is something ever intriguing in combining a small social environment with all its secrets and lies with the mysterious and creepy.

These five picks I took are by far far not the only ones. Series like The Killing, Lost, or even the Sopranos took certain elements from the Twin Peaks aesthetics. But not only TV-shows are influenced by the mother of all series, you can find it in films, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or computer games, like Life is Strange (I have written about it before).

References

[1] Lavery, David, ed.
1995 Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Wayne State University Press.

[2] Haithman, Diane
2013 “Carlton Cuse At ‘Bates Motel’ Panel: “We Pretty Much Ripped Off Twin Peaks”. Deadline.com. Retrieved May 11, 2013.

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About André Savetier

Since 2011 André Savetier is actively working as a music journalist with an expertise on contemporary new wave music phenomena.
His scientific specialization is anthropology of music and anthropology of popular culture. Savetier remains intrigued by the interplay between the aforementioned social phenomena, the told (and untold) legends of music and its roots.

One Thought on “The Twin Peaks Aesthetics

  1. I remember watching this show as a child, it was my favortie. I eventually watched it again as an adult a few years ago and it is even better than I remember. I’m rather dissapointed that there is a new season coming out because I think part of what makes this show better is that it just had 2 seasons and dissapeared, retaining mystery and a cult status. The charm and mystique will be ruined with a new season. Plus they can never re-capture the magic of the early 90’s today (Fashion, Aesthetics etc..)

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