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Twenty years ago this week, dark fantasy series Twin Peaks had become an unexpected hit, garnering 33% of viewers in its timeslot, and was about to air its second episode. Will there ever be another show this popular and weird?

David Lynch, bizarro director of Dune and Blue Velvet, managed to cross over into the mainstream with the two-hour pilot episode of Twin Peaks on ABC. It began with the dead, naked body of Laura Palmer being discovered wrapped in plastic on the beach. Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLaughlin) is called in to solve the murder, whose repercussions are felt throughout the tiny town of Twin Peaks - as well as in the spirit world that haunts the woods around it.

The pilot was so popular that it nearly beat out Cheers in its Sunday night time slot. In 1990, Twin Peaks became what Newsweek dubbed a "watercooler show," the thing you had to watch in order to be able to talk to your coworkers on Friday mornings (the show aired Thursday nights). Like Lost, Twin Peaks was renowned for its twisty plots and disturbing scenarios. But the show was always more popular than Lost: after the pilot, the show settled into an 11.3 rating for its first season (compare to Lost's 5.6 ratings among 18 to 49-year-olds for its premiere this season).

These days, it's hard to imagine a mega-hit show about small town sexual murder, corruption, vengeful ghosts, and psychic powers. What did 1990 have that 2010 doesn't? One obvious answer is cable television: These days, a show like Twin Peaks might find a home on HBO or A&E where it would never have a chance to capture the kinds of audiences that ABC commanded in the early 90s. Even at the time, it was hard for the show to maintain its popularity. During the second season, after Laura's murder was solved, ratings took a deadly nosedive.

The fact is that it's incredibly tough for scifi and fantasy to command people's attention the way CSI or American Idol can. American audiences seem to want realism (or pseudo-realism) more than dark dreamscapes. Twin Peaks may always be the only hit show of its kind.

If you want to trip down memory lane, you can pick up a copy of Twin Peaks' blockbuster first season pretty cheaply. (Season two is recommended only for completists.) When you watch, you'll discover that - stylistically, at least - the closest match for Twin Peaks is probably Mad Men. Crossed with, you know, David Lynch.

Originally published by Annalee Newitz io9

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loci (12 years ago) Reply

"Will there ever be a tv show as good as TWIN PEAKS?"

A juvenile question.
But to answer. Yes, there have been many TV Shows "as good" as Twin Peaks and there will be more.


Kresh (12 years ago) Reply

It's all opinion. You liked it or you didn't. It was good or it wasn't. Loci is quite correct. There may not be another show named "Twin Peaks," but there were (and are) many shows as good. Maybe not ratings-wise, but ratings do not really reflect the quality of a show. In my opinion.

That being said, I never watched "Twin Peaks" and never really had an interest in the show. The soundtrack was excellent though.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

no one really has the same vision as David Lynch. Are there any shows as good as Twin Peaks? No there aren't.


Fred (12 years ago) Reply

Just for thhe record - I watched the entire Twin Peaks recently, and gave up after the murderer was revealed in S02E06 purely because the writing was self--indulgent and it kind of lost its mojo. I really, really tried to like it, but it was incoherent drivel with no overall pattern to it. The occult intrigue was the only thing keeping me watching, and the fast forward feature! I did watch the last episode, directed (but not written) by Lynch, but the damage was already too much to be satisfying. I then watched 'Fire Walk With Me' which couldn't undo the damage the second half of the second series did, although it did tie up some loose ends. Overall, I recommend the Jungian approach to Lynch's work - archetypes, common mythological motifs, internal mindscapes etc. Who knows, perhaps the 'Twin Peaks' are the actual two hemispheres of the brain!


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply


I agree with you that the show can't maintain its quality after the Laura Palmer case is solved. However, "incoherent drivel"? No way, man. Twin Peaks is as good as an other Lynch outing.

I also wanted to say that it is a myth that only the first season of Twin Peaks is good. The first season is actually only 7 episodes (not including the pilot) and the Laura Palmer case is explored well into season 2.

My advice? Pick up the gold plated complete series box. It's well worth it.

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