The Evolution of the Jock in ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Twin Peaks’

Calvin Law examines a common television archetype through two cult shows.

(WARNING: spoilers for Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Return)

In many ways, David Lynch and Netflix could not be more diametrically opposed. Nonetheless, the long-awaited return of Twin Peaks and the arrival of the new Stranger Things begs the opportunity to draw parallels between the two series. There’s an argument to be made that, as much as Stranger Things loves Spielberg, Dante, Carpenter, and Carven, it has its own fair share of Lynchian themes. Outsiders with strange abilities, an otherworld one can be trapped in for a long time, a quirky sheriff’s department, and – perhaps most notably – the intriguing fashion in which it handles its two principal ‘jock’ characters: Dana Ashbrook’s Bobby Briggs and Joe Keery’s Steve Harrington.

Given how indebted it is to nostalgic 80s pop culture references and homages, one might have expected Steve to bite the dust in the first season of Netflix hit Stranger Things. Jocks with mousy hair don’t end well in 80s fare: from Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid and Biff in Back to the Future, to Stand By Me‘s redneck hooligans and the hapless secondary characters in any number of horror films, they’re usually obnoxious jerks who at best learn a bit of humility, and at worst die. Keery, however, so impressed the Duffer brothers on-set with his charismatic performance as Steve that they decided to not only let him (Steve, not Keery) live, but make him an essential part of the series’ climax.

In season 2 of the series, Steve not only returns but takes on a much expanded role; he becomes a sort of guardian angel to the kids, like Josh Brolin’s character in The Goonies with even nicer hair. It’s an inspired choice by the screenwriters, and makes great use of a character’s change of heart to turn him into an endearing, goofy, and altogether pretty awesome hero. It’s particularly fun to see him interact with Gaten Matarazzo’s Dustin, as they make a winning team.

Steve is a great example of making an unlikeable character gradually likeable. That brings us to Bobby Briggs. At the start of Twin Peaks, Bobby, Laura Palmer’s ex-boyfriend, is – for lack of a better word – a bit of an ass. He’s callous, uncaring, indifferent, obnoxious to pretty much everyone, and doesn’t seem to care much for Laura or her demise. One of the most brilliant parts of Twin Peaks is its ability to take apart soap opera caricatures and makes them vivid, realistic human beings. We begin to see the more tender side to Bobby over the course of the series; we see his hopes, his worries, and in a brilliant scene between him and his onscreen father (the magnificent Don S. Davis), the potential to become a better person – which he certainly fulfils in The Return. It may seem a bit odd at first to see Bobby Briggs in a position of authority, but as a deputy in the Twin Peaks’ sheriff’s department, we see he has grown from young punk to a wiser man. Steve and Bobby are two fantastic examples of how the medium of television can be used to create such complexity in its characters; whether over two years, or twenty-five, so much can be done with care and attention to detail.

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