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7 Shows like Twin Peaks: Surreal Murder Mysteries

Michael Taylor itcherDavid Lynch redefined television with his groundbreaking murder mystery ‘Twin Peaks.’ If you’re looking for other series exploring bizarre characters and evil deeds with an artful eye, you’ll love ‘True Detective’, ‘The X-Files’ and ‘American Gothic’. ~ Michael Taylor

“She’s dead…wrapped in plastic…”

That chilling opening line changed television forever when ‘Twin Peaks’ debuted on the ABC network in 1990. Filmmaker David Lynch (‘Blue Velvet’) applied his auteur style to the series that took place in a sleepy Pacific Northwest town. The show revolved around the mysterious death of high school student Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), and the seedy underworld and paranormal evil that brought about her demise.

The show mixed surreal dream imagery along with oddball humor thanks to characters like The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), known just as much for his love of coffee and cherry pie as his dogged, detective skills. It also popularized the “serial” format. Beforehand television series had self-contained episodes, but ‘Peaks’ required sequential viewing, which is now de rigueur for TV dramas.

While the show only lasted two seasons, it spawned a rabid cult audience, whose devotion to the source material is largely responsible for it’s upcoming revival.

So if you’re looking for other shows influenced by ‘Twin Peaks’, let’s take a look at several, including ‘ True Detective’, ‘The Killing’, and ‘The X-Files.’

‘American Gothic’ (CBS, 1995-1996)

This series produced by former actor Shaun Cassidy (‘The Hardy Boys’) also dealt with mystical goings on in a small town, but with an occult twist.

Young Caleb Temple (Lucas Black) is determined to stop Sherriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole), a sexual predator with supernatural powers who slaughtered Temple’s family. The mysterious bond they share created a layer of gripping horror and tension.

Similarity Match: 95%
‘American Gothic’, like ‘Twin Peaks’ explores the evil underbelly in small town America, but with a Southern air.

‘True Detective’ (HBO, 2014)

Equal parts murder mystery and character study, this tale of two Louisiana detectives investigating an occult murder of a teenage girl is expertly paced, beautifully filmed, and features award worthy performances from leads Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

Similarity Match: 90%
Like ‘Peaks’, ‘True Detective’ blends murder mystery with disturbed characters, high production values and ominous haunting music, creating a cinematic experience for the small screen.

‘The Killing’ (AMC, 2011-2014)

The American remake of Danish series ‘Forbrydelsen’ focused on the murder of teenager Rosie Larson in rain swept Seattle. Obsessed detectives Linden (Mirielle Enos) and Holder (Joel Kinnamon) leave no stone unturned in their quest for justice, but they must wade through political corruption and organized crime to discover the ugly truth.

Similarity Match: 85%
‘The Killing’s combination of a dead teenage girl and a rainy Pacific Northwest town draws strong comparisons with ‘Twin Peaks’, although the former is much more rooted in reality than Lynch’s surreal masterpiece.

‘The X-Files’ (FOX, 1993-2002)

“The truth is out there.” That tagline served as the mission statement for F.B.I. agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating cases of the paranormal and extraterrestrial variety. The show’s mix of sci-fi and horror combined with creepy imagery made for appointment viewing (the series will return in 2015).

Similarity Match: 80%
Like ‘Peaks’, ‘The X-Files’ focuses on special agents investigating the macabre, and Duchovny actually got his start on Lynch’s series. But ‘The X-Files’ attempts to explain its bizarre events, whereas Lynch is content with leaving things unresolved.


If You Like Twin Peaks You Will Like…

So far we’ve delved into mystery series that borrowed from ‘Twin Peaks’ narrative and visual style. Now let’s look at non-mystery series that were made with its influence.
‘The Sopranos’ (HBO, 1999-2007)

This massively popular mob drama’s gritty style doesn’t scream out “Twin Peaks” at first notice, but creator David Chase borrowed Lynch’s dream imagery when staging the nightmares of lead character Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

Like ‘Twin Peaks’, ‘The Sopranos’ brought feature film quality to television, bringing ‘Godfather’ worthy mob antiheroes to premium cable.

‘Carnivale’ (HBO, 2003-2005)

This Great Depression era dark fantasy series tells the story of Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) a young man with healing powers who travels with a carnival freak show. He’s locked into a fateful clash with a deranged preacher (Clancy Brown) with the power to manifest evil. While the two don’t physically meet until the series finale, they communicate through bizarre visions and dreams.

While ‘Carnivale’ offers the surreal imagery of ‘Twin Peaks’, and features series alum Michael J. Anderson, its use of religious allegory and American history, makes for an unsettling experience in its own right.

‘Louie’ (FX, 2010-present)

Louie C.K.’s series details his life as a comedian, but it doesn’t follow the sit-com format. It punctuates black humor with elements of surrealism. C.K.’s Lynch influence looms so large, that he featured the director himself in several episodes.

‘Louie’ is first and foremost rich satire, but it’s non-sequitirs and bizarre dream sequences are a clear homage to ‘Twin Peaks’ and the films of David Lynch.


Don’t Want to Wake from This Dream?

So that concludes my list of series like ‘Twin Peaks.’ All my suggestions are deeply addictive; so drink plenty of coffee to power through your binge watching.
Now it’s your turn: what other TV series like ‘Twin Peaks’ would you add to the list?
Tell me in the comments.
My name is Michael Taylor and I′m your go-to source for finding the best in Alternative rock in all its various genres, such as Goth, Grunge, Post-punk, Shoegaze, Britpop and Electronica, with some metal thrown in for good measure. Film-wise, I′m all about sci-fi and horror, comic book movies, and cult classics. I love checking out all the best concerts and film events in my hometown of Austin, TX. I′ve written for sites such as Cracked, and I cover all my various pop culture obsessions on my site
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