Twin Peaks: Weird for Weirdness’ Sake
I’ve been in sort of a slump recently when it comes to entertainment. Everything new coming out in movies and TV was either something I wasn’t interested in or something I was WAY behind on (looking at you, three different cuts of Blade Runner that I would need to see before Blade Runner 2049). So I turned to older, shorter TV; stuff that I could consume in a day, maybe two. That would keep me entertained for a short while until Hollywood finally releases everything I would love to write a review about after the deadline of this Commentator article.
And that’s when, sifting through the offerings of Netflix, I found Twin Peaks. And I’m really glad I did, because it’s some of the best television I’ve seen in a good while.
Twin Peaks was originally a 1990 TV series for ABC created by Mark Frost and David Lynch (more on him in a moment), which was prematurely cancelled in 1991, and spawned a 1992 prequel film and later 2017 sequel series on Showtime. The show follows FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, portrayed by Kyle MacLachlan, who is called into the eponymous Washington town of Twin Peaks to investigate the death of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. The show also spends its time focusing on the lives and interpersonal affairs - literally, in many cases - of the town’s residents, specifically on the effect of Palmer’s death on these relationships.
If I had to sum up my experience watching Twin Peaks in one word, I would choose “odd.” Which doesn’t surprise me, considering the attachment of director David Lynch. Though it’s more digestible to the average viewer than some of his more offbeat films such as 1977’s Eraserhead or 2001’s Mulholland Drive, the show still retains some of Lynch’s flair of surrealist themes and dark comedy, shown mostly through the characters in the show. For example, Agent Cooper is brilliant, but he’s also a weirdo with awkward mannerisms, offbeat investigative methods, and a taste for delicious food and coffee. His weirdness puts him right in place with the just-as-bizarre residents of Twin Peaks, ranging from the mildly quirky police receptionist Lucy (played by Kimmy Robertson), who has a tendency to ramble on in her high-pitched voice, to the truly weird Margaret (played by the late Catherine Coulson), known in the show as “Log Lady” due to the log she constantly carries around and occasionally talks to. Everyone in the town has a quirk and/or a secret, which is what makes Twin Peaks such a fun little town and the show so engaging to watch. Any faceless FBI agent is just another drone, but give an FBI agent a pure, unfiltered love of black coffee, and you can only have Agent Cooper.
Narratively speaking, the show is pretty much flawless. The story - first focusing on Laura’s death, and then expanding to the rest of the town - gripped me in a way that few shows do. Agent Cooper and his interactions with the town are a large part of why I love the show, but this is not to say that the scenes without him are any less entertaining. Hell, Agent Cooper doesn’t even show up until maybe around three quarters of the way through the pilot episode, and everything leading up to that was one of the most well executed and heartbreaking scenes that I have seen in television.
Even beyond the quality of the acting and directing, Twin Peaks is also just a really well structured show. The show is unique among other television shows I’ve seen, in that it has a metanarrative woven through it in the form of show-within-a-show, Invitation to Love, which often has events within itself that mirror goings-on in Twin Peaks. For example, when an episode of Twin Peaks ends with one character shooting another in self defense, Invitation to Love will have an episode end with one character shooting another. Each episode also ends with enough information held back from the viewer to entice them to watch another episode, and the first season ends with such a devastating cliffhanger that it’s impossible not to immediately dive into the second season to find out what happens next.
Twin Peaks is not without its faults, though. A few of the characters are a bit too cartoonish to take seriously, in particular the more villainous character Leo Johnson, played by Eric Da Re and the quirky teen girl Audrey Horne, played by Sherilyn Fenn. The show also suffered from declining ratings during its original 1990-1991 run, which caused it to be prematurely cancelled after season two, which means that a lot of the questions that the show brings up surrounding Twin Peaks are left unanswered (as of writing this review, I have seen neither the 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me nor the 2017 sequel season). While this hasn’t affected the overall popularity of the show nowadays -- it is listed in TVGuide, TIME, and Rolling Stone as one of the greatest TV shows ever made -- I do feel the need to point that out to people who expect closure for every aspect of the show.
Overall, I would recommend Twin Peaks to anyone who wants an offbeat, darkly humorous murder mystery. The production definitely has an aura of late 80s/early 90s around it, but the story and characters are timeless.