The Definitive Ranking of Twin Peaks Rip-Offs, Part 3: True Detective Season 1

Like all rational people we here at The Flyover believe Twin Peaks to the single greatest work of art in the history of mankind, not least of which because David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal small town murder mystery (due for a Showtime revival in 2016) is set in a vibrant and distinct locale that is not New York or Los Angeles. The series’ influence is apparent in virtually every great show oft-referenced in “Golden Age of Television” think pieces littering the internet, but plenty of others have written about that already. What we’re concerned about here is a sincerer indicator of canonization: imitation. In this series of posts we’ll be examining the many Twin Peaks rip-offs, across all media, that appeared in the groundbreaking show’s wake, eventually to be compiled into one definitive ranking.

Please note that the term “rip-off” is used (for the most part) affectionately, so don’t get your panties (or cherry stem) in a twist. Make your own suggestions or tell us how wrong or right you think we are in the comments if you feel like it.

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TRUE DETECTIVE (HBO TV series, 2014- )

The similarities between HBO’s True Detective and Twin Peaks have been examined and perhaps overstated in many other venues. (Even James Franco has provided an undergraduate-level compare-and-contrast essay in this typically meandering column for Vice!) This post by Dominick Nero at Gothamist is probably the most comprehensive of the think-pieces on Peaks’ influence. Here, Nero succinctly summarizes the series’ similarities of theme and structure–although his drawing a correlation between the Cole/Hart philosophizing odd couple duo and the Cooper/Truman partnership is more than a bit of a reach:

Rust Cohle and Marty Hart are arguably the 2014 equivalent of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and his gruff buddy, Sheriff Harry S. Truman. The dreamer and the lawman, the weirdo and the straight guy—Lynch made this detective dichotomy a primetime staple over 20 years ago. And although Nic Pizzolatto is by no means a Lynchian storyteller, True Detective owes a lot to the short-lived ’90s series. Themes of existentialism, pagan naturalism, and the futility of old-fashioned Americana (in the north or the south) pervade both shows, making Pizzolatto’s efforts largely indebted to the elusive David Lynch.

Like Twin Peaks, True Detective is the rare television work of auteurs—novelist Nic Pizzoloato, who wrote every episode, and director Cary Fukanaga, who directed every episode in season one with a floaty, lingering style reminiscent of Lynch. It shares Peaks’ more-than-real atmosphere, its conscious appropriation of “low art” genres (the soap opera for Peaks, pulp fiction for Detective), its centralizing mystery structure, and its sense of ambition and craftsmanship. Unfortunately, like a lot of premium cable TV shows, True Detective is so well made that it takes a while to realize that it’s not that good.

Detective’s oft-thought-pieced women problem is not one only of ideology but of narrative stakes. Why do Cohle and Hart even care about catching the killer? Why should the viewer? Quick: If you’ve watched True Detective, can you name the victim who incites Cohle and Hart’s investigation? Can you name any of the victims? Maybe you remember the name Dora Lange, but do you know anything else about her? They’re all anonymous prostitutes and blandly innocent children that serve as naked narrative mechanisms to trigger the character development of the series’ male protagonist duo. But why should we care about them when the stakes of their stories are so far removed from the show’s plot? True Detective is a meticulously plotted show in which plot is irrelevant.

(This is not my original observation. Plenty of others have made it and written effusive thinkpieces about it.)

Peaks’ depictions of women and sexual violence are not wholly unproblematic (Bikini Kill wrote a song about it), but the show has enough compassion to center itself around a fully characterized and complex woman whose death matters deeply even to the more tertiary characters.

Interestingly, in this Daily Beast interview David Lynch confesses to being fan of True Detective but remains unconvinced of his own influence on it:

But did you see parallels between Twin Peaks and True Detective

…[Laughs] No, no, no. I just liked the show, and that was it.

TENTATIVE RANKING: Mid Tier

Luke Geddes

Luke Geddes