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Stranger Peaks: The Twin Peaks, Stranger Things Guide for Youngsters

Netflix’s new original series Stranger Things — written and directed by Matt and Ross Duffer — has captured the intrigue of many a fans and critics alike and earned itself a second season. The series, set in the 1980’s in a small town called Hawkins, Indiana, is a retro-science fiction thriller.

All is well in this unsuspecting town until twelve-year-old Will Byers, the son of a single mother played by Winona Ryder, goes missing; not only is the crime unusual for the run-of-the-mill town, but something paranormal about the kidnapping captures the attention of the boys mother, the police chief, and the boy’s three best friends. The eight-episode first season follows the town’s inhabitants through an underworld-search for Will Byers, with the help of a young girl who appears to have escaped a top-secret government research facility.

The first season is unique and engaging and I can certainly see why it has gotten the appraisal it has, however during my two-day binge of the show (actually pretty disgusting because there are eight episodes and each is an hour) I noticed some glaring similarities to another favorite show of mine, David Lynch’s TV-masterpiece Twin Peaks.

Stranger Things explores the science fiction genre flawlessly, producing eight gripping and compact (but for a few Degrassi-like diversions into the intricate world of high-school romance) episodes that explore a supernatural world and a government conspiracy. The characters of the show are its strongest attraction; second only to perhaps the score which is doper than dope. The characters evoke exactly what I’d imagine my family and I would feel if I had a little brother that went missing and then I thought he was trying to contact me through Christmas lights; just watch it you’ll understand. The Chief of Police is a moping image of masculinity named Hopper. Hopper is the day one Alpha of the show: this dude has never been scared a day in his life, except for a fitting flashback to his own daughter’s excruciatingly sad death to cancer. Hopper single handedly spearheads a paranormal investigation throughout some grim netherworld.

Will’s mother is, understandably, in a constant hysteria for eight episodes (she legit cries for about eight straight hours), which you might find a little overbearing in large doses. Nevertheless, Ryder’s performance as manic-mother is authentic, if authentically grating.

Will’s three best friends are a bunch of middle school outcasts who love Dungeons and Dragons and aren’t afraid to be themselves, despite the bullying of the contemptible children of Hawkins Middle. The boys are on a tireless search for their best friend and are also not even a little afraid of a reported lethal killing machine roaming the town. Nobody in this town is afraid of anything. Will’s friends and family plunge headfirst into underworld portals, become fugitives in an effort to protect an innocent girl, and are just generally bad-asses throughout.

Twin Peaks, another period thriller that is perhaps more supernatural than science fiction (though Stranger Things toes the line between the two), aired during the early 90’s and also takes place in a similar and equally ambiguous late 80s or early 90s small town. An idiosyncratic FBI super-sleuth takes investigative charge over the murder of a local teen girl. Twin Peaks is a small town where crimes like this are seldom and jarring. Stranger still, the nefarious double-life of the deceased student is uncovered and a whole network of netherworld evil-doers is discovered.

Who in this town could have done such a preposterous crime? That’s the question that Special Agent Dale Cooper is here to find out, and along the way he gets some help from the local civilians and police department of Twin Peaks. The premise of the two-season show (the third season comes out in a year, I’m hyped) is that there is an ominous evil spirit named Bob — yes Bob — that invades the bodies of people and commits horrendous crimes. Where does Bob live, you ask? He lives in an alternate world, a darker more sullen version of the earth called the Black Lodge. Cooper must unravel the mysteries of this dull town to figure out who the culprit is and where to find him. The final episode of the second season has our hero Cooper plunging into the Black Lodge to find Bob and bring an end to his reign of terror on the quaint town. Unfortunately, the good folks of the 90’s were to engaged with the Fresh Prince to give Twin Peaks the credit and views it deserved and the show was not renewed for a third season — that is, until last year. David Lynch is a savage and I’m glad the people of 2016 are letting him make a third season because it’s going to be down right amazing (I hope).

Both shows are very well done and are outstanding in their own right, but the uncanny similarities between the two cannot be ignored. This is not to say Stranger Things was an imitation, more a result of inspiration.

Twin Peaks’ story is centered on the murder of a local teen girl. And like Stranger Things, all the pieces don’t add up; things like this don’t happen in Twin Peaks, Washington. In Stranger Things, a boy goes missing, claims of deadly monster roaming the town have been reported, another teen winds up missing, and yet another appears as if out of thin air, with a strange name and even stranger powers. Things like this don’t happen in Hawkins, Indiana. In both shows the evil stems from an alternate world: a mirror reflection of our own with a dour overcast. The investigative minds, Hopper and Cooper (notice the similarity in names?) dive into the void to find the monster. And both shows end in the exact same cliffhanger.

The pure weirdness of Twin peaks is what separates it from Stranger Things. Twin Peaks got cancelled it’s second season because the simpletons of the 90’s couldn’t handle the mind-bending non-sense. Like many TV shows cancelled before their time, it becomes a cult classic. Stranger Things gives its best HBO impression by throwing some heavy grit into the mix, but cant reach full HBO greatness, because nobody on this Netflix original can throw a curse word or be even remotely sexy.

Stranger things was far more emotionally engaging than Twin Peaks, but that’s because it looks like it was directed by Nicholas Refn (Drive) — minus the whole Ryan Gosling brooding part. Stranger Things stresses family ties and the importance of friendship, while Twin Peaks explores the hidden lives of teenagers, which resonates still today.

Paranormal is Twin Peaks; science fiction is Stranger Things. Stranger Things has an entire government conspiracy, super-power child plotline that doesn’t even closely resemble Twin Peaks. The final episode of Stranger Things doesn’t back quite the suspense-punch I’d like it to (there’s going to be a second season), and I just didn’t get the same “oh shit, they are so screwed” feeling that I did at the end of Twin Peaks — which I should have considering they are pretty much the same show.

If Twin Peaks aired in 2016 it would have achieved the same success as Stranger Things, evidenced by the shows revival and influence on contemporary television. If we’re lucky, Stranger Things will grow to stand entirely on its own and have the full-run and creative license that Twin Peaks never had.

SPOILER AHEAD: the final scenes of both are ignorantly comparable. The last scene in twin peaks is a shot where our main character looks in the mirror and reveals that the evil spirit is inside him, and the final scene in Stranger Things shows our lost boy returned at home looking at himself in the mirror and then it is revealed to us that the monster is still inside him, dope subtlety.

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