Twin Peaks, decoded for novices and obsessives alike

Almost 30 years after its debut, Twin Peaks remains one of TV’s most fascinating experiments.

The show seems to have been filtered down to an essence of weird catchphrases and images over the 26 years it has been off the air. It’s “damn fine coffee” or a dwarf dancing in a red room. It’s the body of a beautiful young woman wrapped in plastic, or an FBI agent coolly dictating memos to an unseen “Diane” on a miniature cassette recorder. Above all, it’s super weird, right? Too weird for network TV, and even too weird for many of its die-hard fans.

But all of the above misses what made Twin Peaks such a lightning bolt when it debuted on ABC — a big, big broadcast network — in the spring of 1990. It misses what made the show such a critical and (brief) ratings sensation, what garnered it tons of Emmy nominations. It’s the surface of Twin Peaks, but not the core.

Twin Peaks changed television history, but almost had to die to do so. It’s one of the greatest TV series ever made, but also way more approachable than you might expect it to be from the years of hype. It’s weird, sure, but it’s also basically a primetime soap with a huge heart.

And now it’s coming back — or, if you’re a Twin Peaks fan, it is “happening again.” But it’s returning as a series that has so successfully permeated the culture that virtually every TV show on the air owes some debt to it. Can Twin Peaks thrive in a world where it’s not the oddball? Or did it gain so much of its power from the simple fact that it aired in 1990, on ABC, where no one would have ever thought to look for it?

No matter your level of Twin Peaks expertise, there’s always more to learn about this infamously intricate show. So please indulge us by allowing us to ruminate on some of the questions you might’ve been too embarrassed to ask, or that have piqued your curiosity about one of TV’s most fascinating experiments.

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