In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, 2am, Sky Atlantic
Like most of David Lynch’s work, it’s easy to recognise Twin Peaks‘ importance without really being able to explain why it’s important. Ostensibly a pastiche of US soap operas mashed up with a murder-mystery, it was still obvious from the get-go that Lynch was doing something TV really hadn’t done before. But it was really hard to say what it was doing.
I remember sitting in the TV room during my first week of university watching the show that all the papers had told us was must-see TV. I was already a Lynch fan, Channel 4 having introduced me to most of his movies over the years, so I was looking forward to it even more than most.
But for half an hour we sat there, wondering what the hell everyone was raving about, as the body of high school cheerleader Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) was washed up ‘wrapped in plastic’ near the small town of Twin Peaks and the inhabitants underwent all the stages of grief you’d expect from seeing a golden girl struck down in the prime of life in a town that felt like it hadn’t quite escaped the 1950s.
Then enter Special Agent Dale Cooper (Dune and Blue Velvet‘s Kyle MacLachlan), a boy scout of an FBI agent sent to investigate the murder, and suddenly the tension of the room eased. At last, we understood what everyone was on about. This was magic. This was art.
Over the course of the next two seasons, the show proved elusive. Sometimes a murder-mystery, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a horror movie, Twin Peaks was indefinable oddness, with perfectly ordinary characters (James the biker boy) interspersed with oddball small town characters (Deputy Andy), oddball FBI agents (David Duchovny’s cross-dressing agent and Lynch’s own deaf agent), oddball characters from nowhere in the world (The Log Lady – so-called, because she carried a log with her) and oddball characters from nightmares (Bob, the ultimate killer of Laura Palmer, who came from ‘the Black Lodge’ and possessed people).
There have been books filled with theories about Twin Peaks and what it was. What’s often forgotten is that it wasn’t very David Lynch. Sure, the undertones from Blue Velvet, with its theme of “the darkness hiding behind the facade of white picket fences”, was obvious. But while Cooper got inspiration from dreams and the Black Lodge had dead people talking backwards and dwarves dancing…
…the nightmare surrealism of Eraserhead was a distant memory.
In fact, objectively speaking, Twin Peaks was mostly a very conventional ABC soap opera cum thriller that just happened to have some wonderful characters and some wonderful moments of surrealism.
Nevertheless, despite being cancelled after two seasons and its follow-up movie flopping, Twin Peaks has remained a worldwide cult classic, esteemed almost as much as its contemporary The X-Files was, but without having been dragged past the point of a natural death and ending on a worthy cliffhanger – Cooper seemingly possessed by Bob after a final encounter in the Black Lodge.
Somewhat perfectly, though, the show had a built-in promise that it would return in 25 years and Showtime in the US has delivered on that promise with a whole new limited series. The question was: what form would it take? Would it be a simple cash-in that brought back a few characters for a quick new murder to be solved? Would it simply riff all the original’s greatest hits without adding anything? Sure, David Lynch was on board, but when was the last time he’d done something exceptional? Mullholland Drive or Lost Highway maybe?
Well, the first two episodes are in and I have to say the new Twin Peaks is magnificent. Absolutely magnificent. And what’s more, it’s a return not just to Twin Peaks but to the David Lynch of pretty much all his movies, including Eraserhead. Although maybe not Dune (Hal yawm!).