It is quite possible that David Lynch will be primarily remembered for Twin Peaks, a TV series that became an instant hit on ABC (and subsequently worldwide), but quickly fell out of favor with viewers. Together with Mark Frost, the director came up with the idea of a mysterious series with no answers where a police investigation drove much of the action. Lynch has made more interesting films, but his work on this show has nevertheless defined our image of him. The audience at large can take the weirdness as long as it’s connected to a universe we genuinely care about.
An FBI agent arrives in Twin Peaks
We are introduced to the remarkable people of the small Washington town of Twin Peaks by way of Laura Palmer (Sherilyn Fenn). The high school student’s dead body is washed ashore one day and FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives in Twin Peaks to assist sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) in the investigation. A genial loner with a penchant for strong coffee and home-made pie, Cooper is a perfect fit for the town and sheriff Truman. The murder case turns out to be infinitely more complicated than anyone could imagine. A second girl, Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), who is found wandering completely disoriented along the railway tracks, turns out to be connected to the case. Also, the whole town is genuinely mourning the loss of Laura, a homecoming queen who didn’t seem to have any enemies. Still, she led a double life that few people knew about…
Intriguing path of weirdness
The narrative may have seemed familiar on the surface, but so many ingredients were unconventional, from the supernatural symbolism that shrouded the murder case in complete unpredictability to the iconic, autumnal portrayal of the all-American small town as a 1950s idyll surrounded by Douglas-fir trees that harbor a mysterious force. In Lynch’s vision, the small town is a place where you can find peace and happiness just as easily as madness and evil; it’s the same thought dominating the director’s Blue Velvet (1986).
The first season ends with a “who shot JR?” moment that sets up a thoroughly disturbing season-two opener, so obviously directed by Lynch, where Cooper travels to a fantasy world visited by a backwards-talking dwarf, an imposing giant and Laura Palmer herself. The story continued down an intriguing path of weirdness leading up to the inevitable revelation of who killed Laura, something Lynch has admitted was a cave-in due to intense pressure from ABC – by then, the public simply had to know who done it. Unfortunately, after that the showrunners were unable to come up with satisfying options and the series became more like a traditional soap opera.
26 years later came the surprise third season, all 18 episodes directed by Lynch, with no compromise. The most hyped TV event of the year challenged audiences and critics to a tremendous degree; featuring most of the original cast, it also had many stars in new roles. Alternately boring as hell, confusing and seemingly aimless, the episodes were also packed with funny, intriguing and even moving moments, fueled by a larger-than-life creativity that defied description.
Angelo Badalamenti’s unforgettable music theme went perfectly with the mist and the wooden interiors of the town’s Great Northern Hotel – Twin Peaks wasn’t just about its characters and mysteries but also the dreamy atmosphere of a place in nature that twisted love, sorrow and fear in a way that no city could. The third season lost some of that allure, since it opened up its universe to many other places, including Manhattan and Las Vegas.
Twin Peaks 1990-1991, 2017:U.S. Made for TV. 48 episodes. Color-B/W. Created by Mark Frost, David Lynch. Music: Angelo Badalamenti. Cast: Kyle MacLachlan (Dale Cooper), Michael Ontkean (Harry S. Truman, 90-91), Mädchen Amick (Shelly Johnson), Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Sherilyn Fenn, Warren Frost, Peggy Lipton, James Marshall, Everett McGill, Jack Nance, Joan Chen, Kimmy Robertson, Michael Horse, Piper Laurie, Harry Goaz, Eric DaRe, Wendy Robie, Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Russ Tamblyn, Don S. Davis, Gary Hershberger, Grace Zabriskie, Catherine E. Coulson, Miguel Ferrer, David Lynch, Lara Flynn Boyle (90-91), Chris Mulkey (90-91), Robert Forster (17), Naomi Watts (17), Laura Dern (17), Amanda Seyfried (17), Jim Belushi (17), Robert Knepper (17).
Trivia: Alternative title for season 3: Twin Peaks: The Return. The first two seasons were followed by a feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992).
Golden Globes: Best Drama Series (91), Actor (MacLachlan) (91), Supporting Actress (Laurie) (91).
Quote: “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 at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.” (MacLachlan to Ontkean)
Last word: “There was a feeling amongst all of us that what we were doing was going to be strange and was probably — and most people felt absolutely — that it was not going to go further than the pilot. I think we all signed up with the idea that David Lynch is bringing his strangeness to a television movie and that was really going to be the end of it. So when it was picked up to shoot more episodes, we were all to a person really surprised.” (MacLachlan, The Los Angeles Times)