Why Aren’t You Watching TWIN PEAKS?
There has never been another show quite like David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal TWIN PEAKS, and I doubt there ever will be. Yes, nowadays there are countless detective shows and shows centered on the dark underbelly of a seemingly perfect small town (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS or even DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), but none matched the perfect blend of these elements that TWIN PEAKS mastered, helped immensely by Lynch’s signature dream-like and symbolic sequences. A show that both mocked daytime soap operas of the day and hypocritically matched their faults and eccentricities; one that introduced to some of the best characters in television: Special Agent Dale Cooper and the infamous Log Lady; a show that mixed the supernatural and magic in an authentically emotional and tasteful way; TWIN PEAKS has gone overlooked for far too long, and that must be righted immediately.
So, why haven’t you watched TWIN PEAKS? Yes, it’s a relatively obscure television show from the ‘90s starring unknown actors and featuring peculiar sequences with little people speaking gibberish. But, surprisingly, it has become a cult classic and has even been renewed for a third season with Showtime to air this May, 26 years after its debut. My personal introduction to the show was through my father, who was lucky enough to know the right people and was among the first to watch it back in 1990. He doubted it would ever actually make it to the air. However, once it did, the pilot was met with high praise and great ratings, which unfortunately steadily declined throughout its tenure. When it aired, TWIN PEAKS became the essential water-cooler discussion as everyone was gripped by the same question: Who killed Laura Palmer?
A show twice referenced on THE SIMPSONS is obviously important
Unfortunately, very few actually stuck around to discover the answer. The creative geniuses behind TWIN PEAKS struggled with this unfortunate fact and the ensuing pressure from network executives, who forced them to prematurely reveal the mystery and answer the central question of the show at the beginning of the second season. After this, the show stumbled along without the same guiding forces and gripping plots. I don’t mean this as a deterrent; instead, I hope you heed my warning and power through (or even skip through) the boring mid-season slump to reach the fantastic finale episode, directed by the one and only David Lynch himself.
In fact, pay special attention to the opening credits of each episode, because you know you’re in for a treat if Lynch is at the helm. Throughout his career and with movies such as BLUE VELVET, THE ELEPHANT MAN, and ERASERHEAD, Lynch developed a specific and instantly recognizable style that has been closely studied by both his admirers and critics. His common themes include suburbia (and its hidden dark underbelly), false exteriors, dreams, evil in all its forms, horror, loneliness, the duality of a person (or place), and pain. Though many directors may attempt this “weird” style for arbitrary reasons, Lynch’s devotion to his authentic themes is what makes even the most outlandish situations feel real and sad. He brings his vision and style to the ethereal sequences of TWIN PEAKS, which are for me what makes the show essential viewing. The immense creativity and emotion contained in his work are apparent throughout the show. His characters and scenarios are so specific and abnormal—and thus incredibly authentic and relatable.
Many consider that, based on the large cast, the music, and style of the show, TWIN PEAKS is a satire of typical nighttime soap operas; however, this soapy send-up becomes both an immense asset and detriment. For most of the show, TWIN PEAKS skirts the line between true drama and exaggerated soap opera filth, complete with murders, affairs, and secret twin cousins. There was even a meta show within a show (or soap within a “soap”) called INVITATION TO LOVE, which consumed the attention of several Twin Peaks citizens and served as an interesting parallel to the events on the show. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, TWIN PEAKS fell victim to the tropes of the soaps: it introduced dumb plotlines (a woman gets amnesia and superhero strength; a beauty pageant is quickly approaching and things get ugly; also, who’s the father of Lucy’s baby???) and new, yet somehow bland, characters late in the game in order to hastily tie up loose ends (including Heather Graham and David Duchovny). My best advice is to skim through the second season, where this unfortunate soap stuff rears its ugly head the hardest, and skip the worst offenders.
Yes, X-FILES fans, this is, in fact, David Duchovny in drag.
What works well about the mystery of the show is the sheer volume of characters, all of whom have plausible motivations and motives. TWIN PEAKS happily allows us to get to know each character and then uncover the intricacies of everyone’s interactions and relationships. You learn why people act certain ways and understand their relation to the poor, murdered Laura Palmer; in the town of Twin Peaks, everyone’s a suspect and everyone has a secret. Luckily, the show respects the audience enough to allow us to solve the mystery right alongside our lovable detectives. In addition to a large and detailed cast of characters, TWIN PEAKS also boasts an impressive amount of talent. Of course, given its large cast, there’s bound to be a few duds (James Hurley is by far the most hated character, according to the internet), but the majority of the actors completely inhabit their strange characters and give some incredible performances.
My personal favorite actor and character is Kyle MacLachlan and his Special Agent Dale Cooper. MacLachlan is a pure soul, who is proud of all of his work (yes, all of it—including his starring role in the god-awful DUNE . . .) to this day, still getting giddy over TWIN PEAKS and gushing about working with David Lynch. The combination of the perfectly written Dale Cooper dialogue (he’s always keeping his assistant Diane updated on the case with excessive detail) and his atypical backstory (including a dead lover and a run in with Tibetan monks) with all of MacLachlan’s dry, witty deliveries and sincere performance makes for one of the most interesting and compelling characters to ever appear on television. MacLachlan is an absolute joy to watch onscreen, and a huge delight offscreen as well.
World’s best detective!
TWIN PEAKS, as I’m sure that you’ve surmised, is an unusual show: it’s a mystery show that cares less about the mystery and more about the town in which it occurred, a satirical soap opera that got less satirical with time, and a show that was obviously the result of tension between creative genius and network execs. All of this, in addition to the quirky characters and Black Lodge dream sequences, makes TWIN PEAKS truly one of a kind. What other show has spawned such a large volume of instantly recognizable quotes and imagery: “She’s dead! Wrapped in plastic!” “Damn fine cup of coffee!” “The owls are not what they seem.” And, of course, the Black Lodge interior, with its red curtains and black and white tile. Plus, if you get as hooked as I am, a new season awaits you—without having to wait 26 years for it! Many details, additions, and changes of the third season are as much a mystery right now as was the death of Laura Palmer; however, I still expect it to be as triumphant a return as any—with David Lynch directing every episode and the whole cast (plus new members like Michael Cera, Trent Reznor, Naomi Watts, and more!) already signed on! TWIN PEAKS has a bizarre style, and may not be right for everyone, but I strongly recommend that you try it—you very possibly will fall as deeply in love as I have.