You guys! It is happening again!
News broke yesterday that Twin Peaks, my first TV love and my most crazy-making obsession, would be returning in 2016 as a limited series on Showtime. Not much else is known about the project other than the most important part: All nine episodes will be written and directed by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and all nine will be directed by Lynch. How does this make me feel? Pretty much like this:
I already had a mailbag on the books for today, but when I heard about the return of Twin Peaks, I decided to dedicate the whole thing to the news. Twin Peaks has actually been a popular topic in these ’bags, even when the thought of new episodes seemed as remote as Glastonbury Grove. (Here I am talking about how Netflix should revive the show, and here I am imagining what the Internet reaction to it would have been had Twin Peaks aired today.) So bust out your tape recorders, pour yourself a steaming cup of black coffee, and start flicking matches at little boys named Leland. It’s the all-Peaks mailbag!
What’s the deal with Twin Peaks anyway? Why should I care?
—A millennial, probably
OK, Junior! Put down those pogs and listen up. If you care about TV, Twin Peaks matters, and it matters a lot.
In the spring of 1990, when ABC1 debuted Twin Peaks, the network was still pulling in an estimated 14 million viewers a week for Full House. One of its most popular programs — and, in fact, Twin Peaks’s initial lead-in — was Father Dowling Mysteries, a genteel hour in which a priest and a nun, played by Mr. Cunningham from Happy Days and these guys’ older sister, solved crimes. (Just how long ago was it? There was a prime-time show about the Flash.) You could say TV wasn’t ready for a show as dark, as weird, as insanely idiosyncratic as Twin Peaks. But that’d be like saying prehistoric cavemen weren’t ready for Snapchat. Twin Peaks wasn’t a gradual, evolutionary step in the development of television as an artistic medium. It was the guy responsible for this pressing fast-forward with his middle finger.
Repeat after me: ABC, like Grantland, is owned by the Walt Disney Company.
Not that Twin Peaks was punk, mind you! In fact, it was the opposite. The opening credits were a lullaby. Despite the abundance of caffeine, the show’s rhythms were dreamy, lush, and slow. Set in the titular town, somewhere in the woodsy Pacific Northwest, Twin Peaks was, on the surface, both deeply familiar and deeply comforting. There were picket fences. The captain of the football team wore a varsity jacket. Everyone knew each other. Everyone loved pie.
The key to understanding Twin Peaks is recognizing that these retro flourishes weren’t satire, but rather celebration. Lynch has never been the slightest bit ironic about his adoration of classic Americana, nor has he ever been afraid to peek underneath those immaculate Formica tabletops. In 1986’s Blue Velvet, it was a disembodied ear festering in the green, green grass of suburbia. On Twin Peaks, the first crack in the mirror that would eventually lead to a much more dramatic crack in the mirror was the murder of beloved prom queen Laura Palmer, played, with brittle innocence, by Sheryl Lee. In the still-breathtaking pilot, Laura washes up on a local beach, “dead … wrapped in plastic.” The investigation that follows, led by Kyle MacLachlan’s stalwart FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, is, at turns, exhilaratingly strange, hugely frustrating, and deeply, deeply unnerving. As Cooper dug deeper into the town of Twin Peaks, he unearthed first a shadow world of secrets, infidelities, and lies, and then, quite literally, a second world lurking just behind this one, filled with furious demons, dancing dwarfs, and an abundance of creamed corn. The strangeness wasn’t there to be strange. It was there to serve as our reflection.
Twin Peaks was, at once, a cop show and a soap opera. (It even had its own soap opera.) But it was also a sly and unsettling commentary on the way society forces us to police each other, forever burying the unpleasant bits and putting on a happy face. Lynch’s heroes were loyal deputies and lonely rebels, plucky waitresses and wronged wives, fishermen and G-men. This sounds simplistic, nostalgic, or both, until you consider the villains. The bad guys on Twin Peaks were predators hiding in plain sight: rapacious businessmen, battering husbands, and abusive fathers. This was TV turned up in both directions. We’d never seen such decency. We’d never witnessed such banal and brutal evil. Long before cable series like The Shield and Mad Men earned raves for muddying our traditional visions of justice and the American dream, Twin Peaks was stuffing fish in the percolator. It was the first TV show of my lifetime not to be afraid of the dark.
For an entire generation of television obsessives — myself most certainly included — Twin Peaks was the series that cracked open the artistic possibilities of the medium. Unlike Father Dowling and his black-and-white mysteries, Twin Peaks exulted in a million shades of gray. It was both funny and devastating, silly and tremendously scary. The contradictions, like cherries in dough, were baked right in. This extended to the show’s breathless mythology as well. A decade before Lost and years before Twitter, Twin Peaks was the original canary in the coal mine for fan insanity.2 Though it infuriated some — OK, judging by the calamitous ratings collapse in Season 2, it infuriated many — Twin Peaks’s gleeful dive into existential craziness (think: giants and UFOs and owls that most assuredly were not what they seemed) was both inspiring and intoxicating for a certain type of disciple. As a viewer, it made me fall in love with the thrill of the chase and worry less about where it was taking me. (Sometimes that fish in the coffee pot turns out to be a red herring.) As a writer, it made me unafraid of pursuing an idea past the comfortable and familiar and into the deepest recesses of the unknown. (It’s a sentiment echoed in this brilliant interview with Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner.) And as a fan, it made me devoted for life. Twin Peaks isn’t just an important fossil from TV’s history. It’s an essential, often ignored blueprint for TV greatness.
In terms of all-time great TV questions, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” is second only to “Guys, where are we?”
The unlikely revivals of Arrested Development, The Comeback, and Community are tame when you consider just how crazy this Twin Peaks announcement is. 25 Years Later!? Do you think it will be worth the inevitably insane levels of hype that will follow for the next year or so?
—Ryan S., Houston
When will everyone finally admit that bringing back old tv shows is a bad idea?
These are two sides of the same question, a question I’m very glad to answer! For those of you who have had hopes raised and dashed by ham-fisted reunions before, breathe easy. This is not that. This is not anything close to that. This, contra Ben C., is actually a really good idea. And here are the reasons why.
1. Twenty-five years have passed.
This is not Veronica Mars, passing the hat for a reunion movie just seven years after going dark. And this is not Boy Meets World, resurrecting itself after just 14 years away. By the time the new episodes start up, a quarter of a century will have passed since Twin Peaks debuted. That is a not-insignificant amount of time! That is a quarter of a century! That is an entire Jennifer Lawrence — with an extra year to spare!
What this means is that Twin Peaks basically can’t fall into the traps that have beset so many other ill-fated reboots. There’s simply no way Shelly is still waiting tables at the Double R. And unless DOE standards have slipped precipitously, Bobby and Mike are definitely no longer in high school. In fact, there’s no reason for Twin Peaks 2.0 to include Shelly or Bobby or Mike at all, despite what Gary Hershberger’s agent might be telling his client this morning. The beauty of letting an entire generation go by before returning to the scene of the crime is that nearly all the most pressing questions left by the finale are no longer all that pressing. Does anyone really remember how we left Audrey Horne3 or Nadine Hurley?4 Does anyone really care? There’s simply no way to pick up things exactly where they left off, and that’s a very good thing. After two and a half decades, what people are longing for is a certain vibe, a certain style. There will be no desperate fan-servicing, no juggling of expensive balls who would rather be working on their movie careers. Lynch and Frost can cherry-pick their cast, pick up favored threads, and let others lie. From this distance, fevered expectation has mellowed into a pleasant bemusement. We didn’t will this reunion into existence. It dropped into our laps. Let’s savor that.
Yes! Inside a bank where a bomb had just exploded.
Yes! Having regained her memory, she’s horrified at the sight of Big Ed and Norma happily together.
2. Lynch is directing nine new hours of film.
Frost is an extremely creative writer, and the staff he put together to help him steer the ship did phenomenally inventive, mostly unheralded work, particularly in the much-maligned second season. But no one disputes that the secret sauce in Twin Peaks was always its oddball auteur. Lynch famously stepped away from the show after the Laura Palmer case was resolved to direct Wild at Heart, and though I will always defend the winding Windom Earle arc that followed, Lynch’s absence was profound. Without him, Twin Peaks was fun and weird. With him, it was otherworldly. The most important thing to remember about this new miniseries is that it will be all Lynch: nine new hours from one of America’s most unique filmmakers — a filmmaker who, I should add, hasn’t made a film since 2006. There is simply no one else like Lynch: no one who can make the beautiful so disturbing or make the repulsive so alluring. Whether you are optimistic or cynical about returning to Twin Peaks, you can’t be mad at the thought of seeing what dwarfs have been dancing around in Lynch’s head this past decade. My guess is they have an awful lot to say.
Should David Lynch go full Luis Buñuel and have Lara Flynn Boyle and Moira Kelly alternate scenes as Donna?
Yes. Yes, he absolutely should. But only if Kelly’s softer Donna has been banished to the Black Lodge and Boyle’s slow-simmering Donna has been restored to her rightful supremacy. Of all the cast members of the original show, Boyle is the one I could most see returning to her role and actually improving upon it. And while I can’t say Donna made my top-five list of old characters I’m dying to see again, your question inspired me to actually go ahead and make that top-five list of old characters I’m dying to see again.
(Note: In the making of this list I discovered that Don S. Davis, who played the gruff and delightful Major Briggs, died in 2008. He may be gone to that big Project Blue Book in the sky, but he’ll never be forgotten.)
1. Special Agent Dale Cooper
Duh. Kyle MacLachlan was the enthusiastically beating heart of Twin Peaks — without his Boy Scout polish as Coop, there simply is no show. Luckily, this is a no-brainer. When I had MacLachlan on my podcast two years ago (audio is sadly no longer available), he spoke fondly of his time in the woods and expressed real enthusiasm about one day slipping that old, familiar trench coat back on. Frost has played it coy in his interviews this week, but trust me: MacLachlan is in. They wouldn’t do it without him. Just promise me that middle-aged Cooper still uses his tape recorder? It’d kill me to see Diane replaced by Siri.
2. Sheriff Harry Truman
I love the doughnut-driven bromance between Truman, the straight-shooting small-town cop, and Cooper, the straighter-shooting Fed. Michael Ontkean is pushing 70 now, but he’s been living in Hawaii and, by the look of it, living right. Did you notice him in The Descendants? That’s a damn fine hairline, Harry. Damn fine.
3. Audrey Horne
4. Special Agents Phillip Jeffries, Albert Rosenfield, and Gordon Cole
Law enforcement types on TV today are all the same: Sherlocking stiff shirts too tormented by the horrors of their lives to ever have much fun. Give me the wackadoodle gang of Feds from Philadelphia any day! Lynch, who turned shouting into an art form as Cole, will obviously already be on set. But I’d love to see Miguel Ferrer back grumping it up as Albert. And though he had only about three minutes of dimension-hopping screen time in Fire Walk With Me, there’s always room for David Bowie as a raving, leisure-suited lunatic with a badge. (If you haven’t seen Fire Walk With Me or any of Twin Peaks before, and the preceding sentence doesn’t make you want to remedy that, I don’t know what else I can do for you.)
5. The Log Lady
Because the Lorax isn’t the only one who speaks for the trees.
But, wait! Didn’t you just say that bringing back old characters wasn’t even necessary?
—The Little Man From Another Place
Right you are! Forgive my sentimentality. As a peace offering, I give you my top-five list of characters I don’t want to see again.
1. Leo Johnson
Here was a villain so uncompelling that he spent the entire second season in a persistent vegetative state — and was somehow more charismatic that way.
2. James Hurley
Twin Peaks is a show in which a prominent character, Josie Packard, ends up trapped inside a piece of wood. Careful viewers might note that Hurley began that way.
3. Bobby Briggs
Some people just peak in high school.
4. Mrs. Tremond and her grandson, Pierre
Come on, now.
5. Andy and Lucy
Some happy endings should be left alone.
I’ve never seen Twin Peaks before. How do you recommend watching it for the first time? Binge? 1 Episode a day? Out of order, X-Files-style?
Now that Twin Peaks is returning and I have never seen the show, how much of it do I watch to catch up? I’ve obviously heard how great it is, especially the first season, but does that mean I should continue past that in my binging?
Twin Peaks was made in an era before bingeing — and is often paced like it. Yet the whodunit hook of the first season feels surprisingly modern. (Even Showtime’s emotional drama The Affair, premiering this weekend, has a murder laid atop it to keep viewers tuning in.) My advice would be to devour the first season and the first nine episodes of Season 2 (i.e., up until Laura’s killer is finally revealed) as you would any other fresh chum on Netflix. From there, I’d take a breather. Maybe hang a new set of drapes. I absolutely loved the post-Laura episodes, but there’s no question they’re a tougher sell. I imagine newbies will appreciate things like the Miss Twin Peaks beauty pageant and Dugpaquest ’92 more if they’re digested slowly. Think of them as the polite dessert course after the frenzied, French-sandwich eating of the first 17 hours. And remember: You’ve got two whole years before the next season is set to begin.
David Lynch is a kooky weirdo who did that show for ABC. Do you think that being on premium cable where you can, you know, show a dude’s head getting popped like a cherry tomato, adds anything significant to the Twin Peaks revival?
Honestly? Let’s hope not. Lynch had exactly that freedom when he made the ill-fated Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me,5 and it isn’t exactly a selling point. Don’t get me wrong: I actually really admire the surreal cruelty of the film and quite like a lot of it. But I don’t think Lynch needs a TV-MA rating to do what he does best. His creepiest and most effective images generally aren’t explicit. (Think of the Dumpster monster in Mulholland Drive, or the little old people crawling under the door in Mulholland Drive, or basically just think of 90 percent of Mulholland Drive.) The best part about Twin Peaks returning to Showtime is the lack of network pressure to extend the story past its creators’ wishes. The freedom to show boobs and blood doesn’t much matter one way or another. Especially when you consider that, more than two decades ago, they showed this in prime time and got away with it.
The best thing about the movie is the previously mentioned David Bowie scene. The second-best thing is this piece Alex Pappademas wrote about it to mark the 20th anniversary of the film’s release. The third-best thing is that Fire Walk With Me opened in France before the U.S. and I happened to be there with my parents in 1992 and I forced them to go with me. Which was, how you say, très awkward.
OK, OK, we get it. You are healthily divorced from youthful nostalgia and can appreciate the new Twin Peaks as its own thing. Congratulations. But if you had to pick some story lines deserving of resolution, what would they be?
—The One-Armed Man
The truth is, the biggest mystery of Twin Peaks is the connection between the owls and the random ghosts and demons inhabiting the Black Lodge and just what, if anything, it all has to do with what went on above that convenience store. But to be honest, I don’t really want all of that explained to me! Half the fun is reveling in the peculiar disorientation of not knowing. Still, in the spirit of the mailbag, I time-jumped, Phillip Jeffries style, into my 13-year-old brain. (Stop it, Andy! Toad the Wet Sprocket is not really that good!) It wasn’t pretty, but I came back with two possibilities:
1. What happened to Cooper?
No spoilers here, but the cliff-hanger at the end of Twin Peaks’s second season is one of the most brutal ever filmed — and it was made all the worse with the knowledge that it would likely never be resolved. That is now no longer the case! I need to know what happened to my favorite Special Agent: how long he’s been trapped in [redacted] and all the terrible things a certain someone got up to while Cooper was “away.” I’ve waited long enough. (Complication: Frank Silva, the actor who played BOB and the single most terrifying-looking human being I’ve ever seen, died in 1995. If anyone can overcome this loss, it’s Lynch.)
2. Is Josie Packard really a doorknob now or what?
It’s a legitimate question. And the very fact that it is demonstrates why this entire reboot is a fantastic idea. A lot of people point to Twin Peaks as the progenitor of all the brilliant, idiosyncratic television we enjoy in 2014, a place where eye-patched men tap-dance and time is a flat circle. But here’s the thing: Nothing on the air today comes within spitting distance of Twin Peaks when it comes to strangeness. Contemporary TV merely adopted the weird. Twin Peaks was born in it, molded by it. There simply hasn’t been anything like it, before or since. And at a time when comic books, having conquered the multiplex, are colonizing the airwaves and Matthew McConaughey in a ponytail is enough to send people either to their H.P. Lovecraft books or their fainting couches, we need Twin Peaks more than ever. It was the rare show that didn’t just follow its own muse; it followed it right over a 300-foot waterfall. The nine new episodes don’t need to accomplish anything in particular. They don’t need to please everyone or make a retroactive case for greatness. They just need to be. As Dale Cooper once told Harry Truman: “Every day … give yourself a little present. Don’t plan for it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen.” For TV fans, that day is coming in 2016.