Maybe a Twin Peaks Revival Without David Lynch Wouldn't Be That Bad

Without its famous co-creator at the helm, Showtime's reboot of the cult TV show can try to emulate the success of other Lynchian knockoffs.

Nobody wants to imagine Showtime's planned Twin Peaks revival without David Lynch, but in the wake of his recent announcement, it looks like the world might have to. On Sunday the iconoclastic co-creator of the 1990s cult TV show issued an exit statement on Facebook and Twitter, saying he had stepped down as director because of a budgetary dispute. Critics instantly took to social media to express that Twin Peaks wouldn't be Twin Peaks without Lynch, and promote a petition to bring him back began. Yet Showtime's response did little to shed light on the situation: “We were saddened to read David Lynch’s statement today,” the network said. “We continue to hold out hope that we can bring [Twin Peaks] back in all its glory with both of its extraordinary creators … at its helm.”

The ambiguity of the response reflects Showtime's fraught, yet interesting, position: On one hand, Lynch has given them a cautious blessing to continue without him ("Twin Peaks may still be very much alive," he wrote on Twitter). On the other, proceeding violates the network's—indeed, even contemporary television's—core creator-driven ethos, a paradigm Twin Peaks helped create. In this sense, Twin Peaks without Lynch wouldn't be Twin Peaks in its purest, most original form. But even if Showtime went ahead without him, the sequel wouldn't diminish the original show's legacy as the inspiration for a great deal of fantastic television. When it comes to Twin Peaks, a knockoff isn't necessarily a death sentence—it can be a license to take risks and get strange and creative.

Hollywood's modern reboot culture is, to be sure, calculated and exhausting. As my colleague David Sims wrote in March (and in December), the industry designs these used vehicles to appeal to global audiences. According to this logic, any brand might do well abroad, however poorly it may be received in the U.S. Though this hypothesis hasn't been as thoroughly tested with television, one can only speculate it might hold in the age of streaming, even if TV remakes tend to be terrible.

Though fears that Hollywood is losing out on original stories are well-founded, rebooting has a long, integral history in the industry. As Yohana Desta wrote for Mashable last year, many successful films (The Maltese Falcon, Scarface, Ocean's Eleven) began as remakes. The difference today is the relatively short period between original and pastiche—which can lead to awkward situations, like the new Spider-Man without Andrew Garfield and Tomb Raider without Angelina Jolie.

But Twin Peaks without David Lynch is different, because he wasn't just a familiar starry face, he was a (if not the) core voice of the show, as its co-creator, director and writer. And yet the series has had a huge impact on modern television: Some creators, such as the Sopranos creator David Chase—originally of Northern Exposure, which riffed quite a bit on Twin Peaks—are vocal about the show’s influence. Critics have identified it as a reference in several ambitious television works—early on with The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire and Slayer, and Lost; more recently with The Killing, Mad Men, even Louie. The connection's been drawn with the NSFW nature of NYPD Blue; the unlikely innocence in the murder-mystery plotlines of Veronica Mars; the left-field character studies in Bates Motel and the visual originality of Hannibal, which one critic has said might even "out-Lynch Lynch." The reason for all of this homage, perhaps, is best encapsulated by Martha P. Nochimson's analysis in Salon: Despite its status as a "cult classic," the show has real universal appeal.

Knocking off Twin Peaks in a conscious or (fittingly) subconscious way has given television creators the stylistic freedom they might not have enjoyed otherwise. Twin Peaks put surrealism more prominently in the critical vocabulary, even if it didn't, initially, save weird shows from bad reviews. “You know, maybe Twin Peaks wasn’t such a good idea after all,” said EW's Ken Tucker in his 1992 review of the show Picket Fences. “It's almost like a biblical injunction against pretension on television” said the Australian reviewer Peter Craven of Carnivale. Today Twin Peaks-level strangeness is far more appreciated—Grantland did an retrospective interview with the screenwriter behind the gonzo hit Wild Palms, and one critic pointed out that Bertram Cooper’s midseason dance last year on Mad Men had a “Lynchian flavor once removed.”

Thanks to the show, weird has become good. Also thanks to the show, so have creator-driven series, film directors taking on television series, serial narratives, and limited-run dramas. Lynch was, perhaps, the special sauce that tied together all of these components. But so were co-creator Mark Frost and stars Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Dana Ashbrook, who are all, as of this moment, still on board to film a script written by Lynch and Frost taking place in the modern day, 25 years after Laura Palmer first washed up on the banks of Twin Peaks lake, to fulfill her prophecy. The ingredients for a fairly Lynchian version are there, even if his signature experimental directing style won't be.

This is not to reassure fans that a reboot sans its iconic, cowlicked creator is a good idea. A show's remake should, rightfully, be held to higher standards than the imitations that follow—and the clear lack of communication between Showtime and Lynch sets a troubling standard. But if the worrisome part is the tarnished integrity of the original, viewers can rest easier than they did 25 years ago. At that moment, those bad knockoffs were jeopardizing the very enterprise of ambitious, bizarre television. Today a bad Twin Peaks would just drive viewers to Netflix to binge on the original.