Why ‘Gilmore Girls’ Was Secretly a ‘Twin Peaks’ Tribute Show


Twin Peaks, David Lynch and Mark Frost’s incredible snowflake of a television show that aired for two magnificent seasons in 1990 and 1991, left quite the legacy in its wake. By blowing apart the typical small-town myths of ’50s Americana with lost dead girls, dorky FBI agents, and trouble with a capital T, Lynch (and Frost, I guess, but you only remember Lynch) haunted our dreams with the show’s indelible images. And it’s lingered — nearly every year we get a Twin Peaks imitator of sort, whether it’s The Killing, Pretty Little Liars, Veronica Mars, or countless others. Fox’s Wayward Pines, due later this year, is nearly a Twin Peaks rip-off, with straitlaced secret service agent Matt Dillon finding nothing but weirdness and trees in a small town with a very big crime.

But the canniest, closest thing to Twin Peaks that we’ve gotten in the 20 years that Laura Palmer has been a household name comes out of left field: Amy Sherman-Palladino’s twee girly classic Gilmore Girls. In fact, it’s as if Sherman-Palladino built Stars Hollow — the small town in Connecticut where her heroes Lorelai and Rory Gilmore live — out of the DNA of Twin Peaks. Here are some things the two shows have in common.

1. Coffee. Gilmore Girls literally begins with Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) heading over to her local diner, Luke’s, asking for a cup of the hot stuff. She is referred to, at one point, as being “90 percent water, ten percent caffeine.”

Part of the reason Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) can handle being in podunk Twin Peaks is that there’s good food: cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee. Pie and coffee are one of the obsessions of the show. I mean, look at Cooper’s wisdom: “Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it; don’t wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good hot black coffee.” There are so many coffee and pie references that somebody made a supercut:

2. The women. The greatest in-joke of Gilmore Girls was that every time Lorelai Gilmore was about to approach something like happiness in her love life, she was invariably thwarted by an actress from Twin Peaks.

Look, it’s Shelly:

As the new girlfriend of Christopher, Rory’s often-absent biological father at the exact point when Lor and Chris may just make it work:

And hey, isn’t that Audrey Horne?

Standing in the way of Luke’s relationship with Lorelai, which was the second role for Sherilyn Fenn on Gilmore Girls?

And when it came to women who got in the way of the inevitable Luke and Lorelai ending, special mention goes to Twin Peaks alumni Kathleen Wilhoite, who played Luke’s flaky sister who’d always come to town just to screw stuff up, and character actress unparalleled Brenda Strong, who hits on Luke for one episode and pisses off Lorelai in the process.

3. Quirky small town weirdness! Twin Peaks was weird. The Log Lady? Nadine and her obsession with her silent drape runners? (Which, regarding the latter: New York State’s nominal first girlfriend, Sandra Lee, made her first million literally selling silent drape runners on QVC.)

Charming Stars Hollow was also a pretty weird place to live. Every week there was a festival of some sort (which is actually pretty par for the course in New England), and every week the characters would invariably run into Kirk, a guy who worked at every joint in town. Kirk (played by Sean Gunn) was the most reliable source of weirdness, of course: when they have a film festival, he shows his auteurist masterpiece:

4. Music. Of course, Lynch is idiosyncratic in his musical tastes, using Julee Cruise as the siren of the Pacific Northwest; and Gilmore Girls shared a similar commitment to one singer and one weirdness, having Grant-Lee Phillips of Grant Lee Buffalo as the “town troubadour,” like a Greek chorus, for much of the show’s run, and a crazy episode when Sherman-Palladino basically got her favorite musicians — Sparks, Sonic Youth (R.I.P.), Joe Pernice — to come to town to sing songs as “substitute troubadors.”

Gilmore Girls was where I first heard about the band Sparks, when “Angst in my Pants” was used as the closer to an episode where Lorelai throws coffee on a wedding dress. Sparks feel like a wonderful link between Lynch and Palladino.

Lynch directed the video for Sparks’ song “I Predict,” and in Sherman-Palladino’s later show, the weird, gone-too-soon Bunheads, there is actually a scene where there is a group dance to “I Predict,” with everyone dressed up as miners.

In Twin Peaks, Lynch showed us our small-town nightmares and the darkness of human nature. Sherman-Palladino is clearly a fan of the show and Lynch’s work, and took his flights of fancy and weirdness to heart, creating her own out-of-this-world small town in Gilmore Girls. The two shows feel like cousins because they’re equally surprising; there’s not a formula that they’re following, a road that you’re confident that they’re going down. They both were obsessed with and loved the location and place. There’s a lightness to Gilmore Girls that isn’t in Twin Peaks, a case of sweetness versus horror, but at the end of the day, the takeaway is the same: it’s a strange world that we live in, and you’ve got to leave the small town before it changes you forever.