Back to IndieWire

Why We Have Film Noir to Thank For ‘Twin Peaks’ and Other Hit TV Dramas

Why We Have Film Noir to Thank For 'Twin Peaks' and Other Hit TV Dramas

After a two season run on ABC in the early ’90s, David Lynch
and Mark Frost’s “Twin Peaks” came to an end. Yet two decades later, this past October, Showtime announced the
return of the cult classic as a limited series set to air in 2016. And the timing for a revival couldn’t be more perfect.

In an age
where hit television dramas such as “True Detective” (creator Nic Pizzolatto, is
a fan of “Twin Peaks”), “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos,” “Hannibal,” “Dexter” and Netflix’s “House of Cards,” the “Twin Peaks” revival is the latest in the onslaught
of popular neo-noir infused
TV dramas to have dominated the “must-watch” conversation.

It’s definitely fair to say that TV noir is having a moment, domestically and internationally. Nordic noir has infiltrated the American noir TV zeitgeist, with the Danish series “The Killing” and Danish-Swedish production, “The Bridge.” And “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman also cruises from the BBC in the U.K. to PBS every season.

All of this new golden age of television owes a serious debt to the classic film noir period of the ’40s and ’50s. The genre then went on to influence serial police procedural dramas and their counterparts (“The X-Files,” for example) that flourished in the ’80s and ’90s.


The “classic” film noir era is said to have begun with director John Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) and ended with Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” (1958) — the films and televised
works that followed are generally considered to be of the neo-noir (“new black”)
canon. The noir style then carried over to television. There was “Dragnet” in the late ’50s
and “Naked City” in the ’60s — but NBC’s “Hill Street Blues” (a series Frost also wrote for)
of the ‘80s revolutionized the genre, content-wise.

Morally gray characters and more
graphic depictions of violence and sex were all risqué for the time but well received, and then the likes of “Twin Peaks” followed in the next decade.

Today, perhaps it would be closer to the cultural truth to say that we currently live in the golden age of the dark television dramas, following the death of the sitcom.

The French-born Italian critic Nino Frank devised the term film noir (“black film”) to
describe the burgeoning American crime films of the ‘40s post-WWII: bleak, cynical
stories that matched the national tone driven by atomic era anxieties.

Noir dramas, then and now, usually contain a pessimistic/cynical antihero (typically male), a nonlinear storyline (frequently accompanied with voiceovers and flashbacks), crime/detective plots, violence, melodrama, betrayals, experimentation with on-screen shadow and light, ambiguous moralities, haunting scores, brazen or perverse sexual material and femme fatales.

READ MORE: Film Noir’s 10 Most Dangerous Leading Ladies

Within the past few years, “Twin Peaks” has been
consistently ranked and recognized as excellent television by critics across the board. Yet, “Twin Peaks” was unusual during its original run for its
serial drama premise rife with dark surrealism, absurdity, psychological horror
and supernatural entities — which by today’s standards sounds like just another
episode of “American Horror Story.”

With its highly anticipated return, it can be argued “Twin
Peaks” with its dead homecoming queen and unraveling of a seedy suburbia — was
influenced by classic film noir and helped pave the way for today’s TV noir and
will come full circle with its reboot in 2016.

Until then, there’s the third season of “House of Cards” to catch in February 2015, and much more beyond that.

READ MORE: The 5 Actors ‘Twin Peaks’ Will Be Missing When It Returns in 2016

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , , , , , ,