Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I have absolutely no idea what is going on.

It's hard to describe to someone who wasn't there what it was like to see Twin Peaks the first time it was shown on television. I recently rewatched it with Noodle Arms, who was seeing it for the first time, and she enjoyed it immensely, but couldn't get why I was always going on and on about how groundbreaking it was. Quirky TV shows with mysterious, incomprehensible plots are fairly common these days. It's not the most consistently well-made programme - for quality of writing, casting, plot and story arc I'd give the gong to either The Sopranos or Freaks and Geeks, both pretty much flawless productions. A lot of people would add Six Feet Under, but that whole season with The World's Most Annoying Actress (Lili Taylor) playing The World's Most Annoying Television Character killed that show for me.

Television in the very early 90s was predictable and pretty stale. Cop shows, hospital shows, lawyer shows, and the usual parade of formulaic sitcoms dominated the prime time hours. When Twin Peaks started being advertised, my BFF Christine and I were super excited. We'd already seen Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man, and were fledgling fans of David Lynch (though Dune was pretty bloody awful). She had a "TV room" in her house where we set up camp on Tuesday nights with our drinks and snacks and cigarettes (tut) and were glued to the screen, following intently. We recorded every episode right from the beginning, watched each one several times and took notes. I'm sure that sounds laughable now (Noodles certainly thought so), but this was like nothing we had ever seen. What was relevant? What was just Lynch being a weirdo? Nowadays the second an episode of a fanatically followed show is finished everyone's online hashing it out. We didn't have that luxury in Ye Olden Dayes. It was pen and paper and a VCR.

Twin Peaks paved the way for shows like The X-Files and Lost, where a mysterious plot is dragged out over several seasons - this was previously unheard of. It spawned a host of quirky small-town dramedies like Northern Exposure and Picket Fences. Visually beautiful and strange, supernatural shows like and Carnivàle and American Gothic owe a lot to Twin Peaks. In short, this programme set the standard for inventive, original television, and no one since has really been able to match it.

Pretty much everyone knows the basic story of Twin Peaks - a high school girl is found murdered in the first few minutes, an almost insanely chipper but brilliant FBI agent arrives in a town full of oddballs to help the local sheriff's office investigate the crime, and so it goes on, equal parts weird, scary, hilarious and heartbreaking. Once the murder mystery is solved a third of the way through the second season it kind of falls in a heap for a while, but picks up again towards the end when the story goes hurtling towards its shocking finale.

Surprisingly, David Lynch didn't direct very many episodes, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of his other works can pick the ones he did direct. Thankfully, he was there for the major events - the pilot, the pivotal episode where Laura Palmer's killer is revealed, and the devastating final episode. He also makes a few fleeting appearances as Agent Cooper's boss, Gordon Cole, one of the more comedic characters.

Brilliant weirdness aside, one of the loveliest aspects of Twin Peaks is the relationship between Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and local Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean). This is one of the original - and best - bromances seen on the small screen. From the very first time they meet, the two display an enormous amount of respect and trust for one another. Given that a popular - and much overused - plot device in police-based TV shows is that of the conflict between the small town constabulary and the big city plain clothes officer who comes in to take over, the great affection between these two men is endearing and wonderful to watch.

If you've seen it before, you're probably due for another viewing. You will catch a ton of things you didn't notice before, and fall in love with a bunch of characters all over again. If you haven't ever seen it, what on earth are you waiting for?

Note: This was originally posted on my other blog, which I'm now incorporating into this one. I'm posting it here now because Twin Peaks came up in conversation tonight and I was reminded all over again how much I love it. 


  1. Oh Twin Peaks. Because of Agent Cooper, I now take my coffee as black as the sky on a moonless night.

    Reading this actually made me feel sad that I never got to experience the VCR, pad and pen debrief. Great post, Dee.

  2. I wish I could develop a taste for black coffee - it's so cool, and I wouldn't get so stressed out when I ran out of milk first thing in the morning.

  3. Oh man, my sister and I were ALL about Northern Exposure and Picket Fences. Never watched Twin Peaks though - although I think I still have the song from it on a cassette somewhere.

  4. I loved both of those! The episode I mainly remember of PF was the one where the judge's son was a paedophile and in the end he killed himself because he couldn't handle what he was. Man, they were ballsy having a sympathetic paedo character in the early 90s. Even these days that would be side-eyed.

  5. Seriously one of the best Bromances ever to grace the screen. Agent Cooper 4 eva

  6. I love the Cooper/Truman bromance so much, Jess. It's truly one of my favourite things about TP.

  7. Oooh it sounds really interesting!

  8. I loved Twin Peaks but then it got cancelled and I watched Northern Exposure which I actually loved more than Twin Peaks. I also liked Millennium which was a dark and brooding show, nothing like the perfect little world shows of today. I miss the dark ones! LOL

  9. Ohh it makes my heart ache to feel as though I'm in limbo, I think we should harass Lynch to make more!!!

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  11. VM, it's a great show - worth watching! :-D

    Olivia, I loved NE as well, but the will-they-won't-they with Joel and Maggie got annoying after a while. I was all about Chris In The Morning though... Millenium was good too, a nicely creepy little show.

    Jade, if only!

    Jacquie, dude! Spoilers! I'm deleting your comment. ;-)