Twin Peaks (1990)

3 out of 5

Created by: Mark Frost, David Lynch

Hi everyone.  I’m here to update you: Twin Peaks was not a great show.  And I don’t mean in a “before Laura Palmer’s murder was resolved” sense, but in relation to any point of the series, any episode: It was always… okay.  I don’t think, for Lynch, it was the best exploration of flawed Americana, nor was it his most effective use of dream logic.  The show was always a compromise on these concepts, blended with a small town drama, an offbeat comedy, and a murder mystery – although I think it’s very clear in retrospect how that last piece was intended to be a MacGuffin of sorts – and the blend doesn’t really fully satisfy on any front.  True, it makes for an oddball melange, which is really what’s so memorable about the series: That it got made at all, and back-handed its way into must-see-TV for a hot minute.  I’m just more dismissive of defenders of the first season as some kind of diamond in a two-season rough; Twin Peaks is absolutely historically notable for making weird TV a prime-time possibility, but I’d maintain that by all standards – as an episodic show, as a mystery, as a Lynch project, as a character study, as an offbeat comedy, etc. – it’s just okay.

Regarding that second season, though: Just try to make it through, I dare you.  Some good bits and pieces poke through, but it otherwise misunderstands the cheeky gloss – and undercurrent of horror – that Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost gifted season one, coming across as exactly what it ended up being: other people doing their best Twin Peaks impression.

The show kicks off with a dead body wrapped in plastic: Laura Palmer, town sweetheart.  …Whom we soon discover was a bit less sweetheart and a bit more drug addict and escort, a discovery which prompts the viewer winding their way through all sorts of tawdry business occurring in the seemingly idyllic logging town of Twin Peaks.

The locals – including sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), star-crossed lovers Ed (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton), scheming teens Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) and Mike (Gary Hershberger), hotel mogul Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his wiley daughter Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), Laura’s friends Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) and James (James Marshall) – all purposefully represent quaint or soap opera tropes, pushed to the verge of parody and perfectly underscored by composer Angelo Badalemnti’s flourished themes.  The formula gets a Lynchian wildcard introduced via FBI man Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), who has a happy-go-lucky appreciation of the town’s charms but is also all business in pursuing Laura’s killer, including a humorously fully-accepted-by-everyone reliance on his dreams for clues.  And for the first season, we essentially just sit and watch this stew simmer.  Those with normal TV expectations (which was all we had at the time) were hooked by the surreal dream logic of Lynch’s, which also influenced the show’s meandering, lingering shooting style, as it gave the series a sense of meaning in symbols which prefigured the clue-hunting Lost craze of the future.  But, as mentioned, with retrospect (or a then-recent viewing of Blue Velvet), it’s clear that much of this is Lynch putting us on, or rather just reveling in the environs he helped create, using the murder as a (sigh) lynchpin to return to if he needed to twist things slightly in a newly weird direction.  And if there’s anything the second season does add, it’s clarity to this playful intention – juxtaposed, as is Lynch’s wont, with the horrific, eventual killer reveal – with more comedic aspects like deputy Andy’s bumbling wooing of secretary Lucy and the man himself, David Lynch, showing up as a perpetually shouting FBI guy becoming more prevalent aspects of the tone.  …Though this didn’t improve things, rather highlighting the shadow of itself the show devolved into, I just mean to underline that goofiness was in the series’ DNA.

Twin Peaks is, by all means, worth exploring, as it’s a unique brew of semi-seriousness and scene-chewing even amidst today’s crowded TV landscape.  But I think it’s unwise to go in expecting anything awfully effective or revelatory, even when the show was more true to its design in the first season; it’s simply too cluttered with concepts to emerge as must-see-TV, unless you mistake its experimentation for a purposeful puzzle-piece design.