Cult TV show renews interest in small town life

As they drove through rural Alberta to a wedding in Wainwright, Lindsay Stamhuis and Aidan Hailes couldn’t help seeing and feeling reflections of Twin Peaks.


It helped that the two mega-fans were playing the soundtrack of the 1990-91 television series as they drove through Irma, Viking and into Wainwright, and buzzing with anticipation of the third season, which was beginning the next evening.


“There’s a diner and a gas station and maybe a cash-and-carry,” said Stamhuis about how the TV show has made rural Western Canada seem more exotic and less mundane than before they had seen the show.


Twin Peaks was and is set in northeastern Washington state, “five miles south of the Canadian border, and twelve miles west of the state line,” but its evocation of small town realities feels true to much of the western Canadian and Alberta foothills small town reality.


“It’s a universal feeling,” said Stamhuis, who co-hosts the Bickering Peaks podcast along with fellow Edmontonian Hailes. 


The podcast explores the series to a great depth with more than 50 one-hour episodes going through the original two series and new ones coming out after each new season three episode is released.


“I think in any small town you’ll find those elements, (although) maybe not the supernatural portals to The Black Lodge.”


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Twin Peaks has carried along a massive cult-like fan base for the 25 years since it was cancelled. At the time it was a revolutionary television series, the first to demonstrate that high quality, sophisticated and challenging drama could work on network television. 


Many credit Twin Peaks with giving birth to the “golden age of television,” which is still taking place.


While the show is officially set in the Rockies, many have noted that it doesn’t really feel that way. In many ways it feels like the foothills or boreal forest, and that probably reflects the origin of director David Lynch in Missoula, Montana, which is due south of Pincher Creek, Alta., and arguably more similar to Alberta than the Pacific Northwest or any other part of the United States.


“For a show called Twin Peaks, the mountains play a very small role,” said Hailes.


“Boreal forest. It’s closer to that,” said Stamhuis, who also said the show’s general mood of isolation and exposure inside a beautiful but menacing environment fits the western Canadian flatlands too.


“Anybody who’s driven down a highway through wheat fields (in summer) or grasslands in winter, there’s just an isolation or a loneliness,” said Stamhuis.


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“Even though (in the show) it’s mountains and pine trees, there’s still a sense that this is a lonely landscape.”


The podcasters have found that evocative environment engaging, ever since they belatedly got sucked into Twin Peaks fandom in 2010. (Stamhuis was five years old when the series was first broadcast and sneakily watched while her parents thought she was sleeping, but was so disturbed by what she saw she didn’t re-engage for years.)


Both have farming pedigrees, with Hailes’ family having farmed and lived along Alberta’s Highway 14, and Stamhuis’ family farming for more than a century around Athabaska, Alta.


Like millions of others after the series first appeared, Twin Peaks has made small, remote towns seem like something more than places to zip by in a speeding car. 


And as the show’s rebirth after 25 years reignites public interest in ignored rural places, more cars may be slowing as they pass through these places, either north or south of the border, in forests and mountains or fields and plains.


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