A Brief History of TV Shows Being Compared to Twin Peaks

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Photo-Illustration: Kelly Chiello and Photos by Getty Images, A&E, Fox, FX

When Twin Peaks aired on ABC from 1990 to 1991, there was nothing like it on TV. There still isn’t, though David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal crime drama left hordes of imitators in its wake. Stylistically, the show, as Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz put it, is canon: “Everyone knows what it was, and is, and meant, even if they haven't watched a frame. Everything from The Sopranos to American Horror Story owes it a debt.” But standing next to Twin Peaks’ artistic influence is its redheaded stepchild: marketing. While discussing his upcoming series Atlanta, Donald Glover said, “I always wanted to make Twin Peaks with rappers.” In promoting their Archie reboot, the stars of the CW’s mid-season drama Riverdale made a similar comparison. “We’re comparing it to Twin Peaks,” star Camila Mendes told EW, as if echoing a conversation with a PR team.

In both cases, the analogy doesn’t quite work. Atlanta, if anything, is more of a rap-inflected sadcom than a murder mystery. Riverdale sounds darker, but it’s still invoking Lynch for the cachet — can you imagine a surreal CW show? Zounds! — as many series before it have done. Saying your show is “like Twin Peaks” is a way of saying a show will push boundaries, but in a way you already understand. It’s marketable weird.

Here are a few shows that invited, sold themselves with, or had to grapple with the inevitable comparison to Twin Peaks.

Northern Exposure (1990 to 1995)
The pitch: Premiering in July of 1990, just a few months after Twin Peaks’ April release, Northern Exposure feels right in the middle of the latter show’s shadow, especially since it was also about quirky people in a small town in the northwest — Alaska, in this case, instead of Washington. As EW put it at the time, “Is this Twin Peaks territory? Geographically, yes; spiritually, not quite.” Northern Exposure occasionally ribbed its trippy cousin, but tended to go after more grounded story lines.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
1.6 peaks

Picket Fences (1992 to 1996)
The pitch:
If Northern Exposure took on the Pacific Northwest aspects of Twin Peaks, Picket Fences absorbed Lynch’s brutal take on suburbia. Premiering in 1992, Fences came out after Twin Peaks left the air, even as it plundered its aesthetic. “With Fences,” EW’s Ken Tucker wrote at the time, “[L.A. Law’s David E.] Kelley created the first family drama that seems inspired by Peaks-like quirks and eccentricities.” Or, as the Hallmark reruns put it, “it makes Twin Peaks look normal,” which perhaps oversells Fences’ craziness, but gets the gist of the show’s angle.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
1.3 peaks

Wild Palms (1993)
The pitch:
Taking place in a surreal 2007, Wild Palms was Oliver Stone’s 1993 mini-series about a don’t-call-it-Scientology fascist cult. It aired on ABC, somehow, and was deeply, deeply weird. Different as it was from Twin Peaks — think more paranoia, less small-town oddity — Wild Palms came with marketing that pitched it as the former show, but more contained. At a press tour, network president Robert A. Iger said, “Twin Peaks should have been commissioned as a seven-hour show. It should have been called Who Killed Laura Palmer? and we should have found out at the end of seven hours. Then it should have faded into history as one of the more significant shows ever to air on network TV.” Saying the show was like Twin Peaks, even if only on the packaging, essentially allowed ABC to smuggle more weird onto TV.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
0.8 peaks

The X-Files (1993 to 2002, 2016)
The pitch:
The chain of creative influence from Twin Peaks to The X-Files is undeniable. Chris Carter’s series even cast David Duchovny, who also appeared on Peaks, among many other cast members on the show. The two diverge in key ways — especially as The X-Files was more procedural and channeled a lot of different styles — but for any Lynch fan paying attention (or dreaming of crossover episodes) the medium was the message.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
1.5 peaks

The Sopranos (1999 to 2007)
The pitch:
Unlike most of the other shows on this list, The Sopranos was served with the crust of a raucous mob drama and a creamy, Lynchian dreamscape center. Creator David Chase once spoke to Vulture himself about the myriad influences Peaks had on his show, even as it took an interest in the unconscious and subconscious in different directions.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
0.6 peaks

Carnivale (2003 to 2005)
The pitch:
HBO’s mystical Dust Bowl series was perhaps too arcane to ever be a hit with viewers, and it was canceled after two seasons. And, using the tried-and-true equation of Twin Peaks = weird, HBO courted viewers with comparisons to Peaks. It helped that Lynch favorite Michael J. Anderson was onboard, as he told reporters at a press event, “I’ve been calling [Carnivale] Twin Peaks with logic.” (If you take “logic” to mean “an Escher-like labyrinth of symbology,” this is true.)
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
π peaks

Lost (2004 to 2010)
The pitch:
A group of ordinary people arrive in a mysterious town island with magical properties. Structurally, Lost is Twin Peaks crossbred with Survivor, but as much as that might have been an influence, Lost led with adventure, and then followed up with mystery. Over the course of its run, as creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse became celebrities in their own right, that started to change. As obsessive viewers pieced apart Lost, Lindelof and Cuse’s reference points, from Stephen King to Peaks, seemed more crucial to understanding the show.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
1.2 peaks

The Killing (2011 to 2014)
The pitch:
By 2011, references to Twin Peaks could be the focus of a show’s advertising campaign. The Killing, which was based on the Danish Forbrydelsen (a show about knit sweaters and murder), introduced itself to the U.S. with the tagline “Who killed Rosie Larsen?,” which seems awfully familiar to anyone who’s seen ABC’s posters about Laura Palmer.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
0.5 peaks

Happy Town (2010)
The pitch:
By 2010, we’re at a point where “imitation Twin Peaks” is itself a selling point. The trailer for ABC’s 2010 small-town drama gets to the point within the first few seconds: This is “from the network that brought you Twin Peaks.” From there, we’re introduced to an out-of-towner meeting some quirky residents, followed by a smash cut to a murder investigation. Of course, ABC overplayed its hand by having a character say “murderrrrr” and a serial killer called “the magic man.” Entertainment Weekly called Happy Town “the poor man’s Twin Peaks,” and the show was bumped from ABC’s schedule to burn off the rest of its run over the summer, just two episodes into its first season.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks): 1 peak

Bates Motel (2013 to ... )
The pitch:
“We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks,” creator Carlton Cuse said of his show a few months after its premiere in 2013, which acts as a prologue to Psycho. “I loved that show. They only did 30 episodes. [Co-creator] Kerry and I thought we’d do the 70 that are missing.” By this point, the stylistic influences of Twin Peaks were baked into pretty much all television, so saying your spooky series is “like Twin Peaks” is a little like saying, “This soup has broth.” Though perhaps you also want to emphasize that it’s damn fine broth. (See also: Hannibal and Fargo, whose creators also looked to Frost and Lynch when they translated film properties into prestige TV.)
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
0.7 peaks

Wayward Pines (2015 to ... )
The pitch:
Compared to Happy Town, Wayward Pines was the Twin Peaks knockoff that could — at least in terms of getting a second season. But where Twin Peaks comparisons tend to buoy other shows, the specter of Frost and Lynch weighed Pines down. After a series of headlines like “M. Night Shyamalan's new TV show looks like Twin Peaks meets The X-Files,” the tide started to turn. “Sorry, Wayward Pines,” Wired wrote in a headline, “You’re No Twin Peaks—Nothing Is.”
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks): 1.7 peaks (attempted), 0.4 peaks (achieved)

Atlanta (2016 to ... )
The pitch:
Twin Peaks,” Glover has said, “with rappers.” In actuality, Atlanta is more like Louie with rappers.
Twin Peak
–iness (out of two peaks):
0.3 peaks

Riverdale (premiere date TBA)
The pitch:
Archie Comics' small-town bliss meets grown-up Lynchian drama, which, to be fair, is itself the pitch for Twin Peaks. It remains to be seen whether Riverdale fully embraces that influence, though murder-y shows like Pretty Little Liars (and movies like the Pacific Northwest–set Twilight) prove that teen dramas have a lot of Peaks in them already.
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks): A whole lotta soil (potential peaks)

Twin Peaks (2017)
The pitch:
With the rise of “this show is like Twin Peaks,” perhaps it was inevitable that a network would eventually revive Twin Peaks. That network is Showtime, that revival is happening in 2017, and the pitch is “This show is Twin Peaks.”
Twin Peak–iness (out of two peaks):
2 peaks