Twin Peaks: Our TV Critic Takes a Look at the New Series

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Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Twin Peaks

Matt Fronduto

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From fans in the ‘90s to viewers in the new millennium alike. From casual viewers to nit-picking analysts who re-watch the program to pick up minute details. Everyone who has ever enjoyed David Lynch’s smash-hit Twin Peaks rejoiced when he and co-creator Mark Frost announced the one-season return the show would make in 2017. The TV series that altered the course of network television had developed a massive cult following since its cancellation in 1991, and aside from a prequel film in ‘92, fans had been given no more. Until now.

Each entrance into the world of Twin Peaks has been met with some form of controversy, so it comes as no surprise that the 2017 limited-series would be met with just as much, if not far more. However, to understand the impact of Lynch’s sequel series, the context and importance of the previous two installments can not be overlooked. Therefore, a breakdown of the reception and cultural impact is entirely necessary.

Original Series (1990-1991)

Executives at ABC had mixed feelings when they gave David Lynch the green light to air his pilot about a quaint northwestern town on April 8th, 1990. The show was far from conventional, providing viewers with locations, characters, and dialogue that television had never before seen the likes of. Showrunners for ABC  feared that a “primetime” time slot was not ready for a such a wild and offbeat hour of television, especially when it had to compete with cult classic Cheers on Sunday nights. Their fears were initially validated, but after moving to a slot that did not conflict with Cheers, it thrived. Twin Peaks was a viral sensation, with audiences and critics both drooling over it, shocked at how powerful and cinematic the show felt. The mania of Twin Peaks reached its heights when it was parodied on Saturday Night Live, with Conan O’Brien, Mike Myers, and the show’s leading actor Kyle MacLachlan all starring in the sketch.

The program’s premise seems simple enough on the surface. Local homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is murdered, nobody can identify the culprit, and a talented, odd, yet lovable FBI agent (Maclachlan) comes to investigate, but one must understand, in Twin Peaks, nothing is as it seems. The blend of drama, comedy, horror, mystery, and sci-fi is remarkably seamless, as one can feel every human emotion possible during the 45 minute runtime. Audiences had never before seen a program genre-blend so well, and it took the world by storm.

Unfortunately, as always, money eventually got in the way.

Creators David Lynch and Mark Frost never intended to solve the mystery, but only to have the murder mystery serve as an overarching plot that introduced audiences to the wonderful characters. The higher-ups at ABC were not on the same page as the writers, and forced them to reveal the killer halfway through Season Two in order to boost ratings. Immediately after the revelation, Lynch was so disheartened that he took a break from the show, and the quality reflected it. Lynch even saying this year in an interview with Vanity Fair, “I stopped watching that show because it got so bad.”

Despite Lynch’s unfiltered hate for season two, many critics agree that the show begins to redeem itself as it ramps up to the finale, which Lynch returns to direct. The finale is widely regarded as the best installment of Season Two, brilliantly answering many questions while raising hundreds more, even leaving audiences with one of the most famous cliffhangers in television history, which I will resist the urge to spoil. David Lynch’s involvement in the final episode, and the episode’s success seems like no coincidence, but unfortunately it would be the series’s last… or so everyone thought.

Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Twin Peaks had cultivated a massive following by its 1991 cancellation, so when Lynch’s new film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was announced, fans were on the edge of their seats. Finally, the chance for closure! And these fanatics would have to wait no more than a year to have their questions answered. Expectations were only amplified after rumors that acclaimed singers Chris Isaak and David Bowie would be playing prominent roles, and that MacLachlan, Lee, and Lynch, who starred in the original series, would all be reprising their roles. However, David Lynch did what David Lynch does best, and he subverted everybody’s expectations, as Fire Walk With Me turned out to be the most bizarre prequel film ever made.

The film was so mind-bogglingly strange and grotesque that initially critics and fans alike had no idea what to make of it, evidenced by the poor reviews that it received upon release. Fans were disheartened that none of the loose ends were tied up, and many critics believed it was just weird for the sake of being weird, a criticism Lynch had previously faced for 1986’s Eraserhead, and would eventually face for his 2006 film Inland Empire. These two films, unlike Twin Peaks, did not already have massive followings, which is why the prequel was torn apart on release. Predictability sells, but if you’re looking for predictability in David Lynch, then you’re looking in the wrong place.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

25 years. It took 25 years for fans to finally see some of the most beloved characters in TV history return to the small screen, yet there was a sense of doubt. In recent years there have been countless reboots and sequels to films that should have just been left alone. There is a serious problem of money-grubbing studios taking advantage of every possible opportunity to take money out of viewers’ pockets while they are blinded by nostalgia. These studios have rebooted Terminator, Ghostbusters, Jumanji, and many more, only for fans to be gravely disappointed with the results, so what was stopping Twin Peaks from being any different?

David Lynch. David Lynch was standing in the way of Twin Peaks meeting that fate. He struck an agreement with the network Showtime in 2013 that allowed him to create 18 more hours of material with complete creative control, meaning he could fill those hours with whatever he wanted, and Showtime would do naught to stop him.

By the fourth episode of Twin Peaks: The Return (or Season Three, as Lynch has called it) the producers had all but assured viewers that the sequel series would certainly not pander to fans.

Spoilers

This becomes evident when the most beloved character of the original series, and one of the most likeable characters to ever hit the small screen, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, spends nearly the entire season trapped inside the body of Dougie Jones, a Las Vegas insurance salesman who looks just like him. Cooper has no control over his actions, and the mind that does control the body seems to be fried. Thus, the audience is left watching Kyle Maclachlan stumble around cluelessly for over a dozen episodes, and it is perfect. Such a concept seems impossible to pull off, but because of Maclachlan’s stellar performance, great writing, and the extraordinary build up of the tension, it manages to work, even if it may frustrate some fans.

The mysterious sci-fi elements of the original works were not only revisited, but amplified to the nth degree. For months Twitter was ablaze with endless theories from fans who were mystified by Lynch’s unorthodox and utterly mind boggling way of telling his story. The fanbase was split for much of the season, with some arguing that Lynch had gone too unconventional and strange, while others argued that The Return was a revolutionary work of genius. The greatest divide between fans was most clearly shown following Part 8 and Part 18, the finale.

The visual storytelling of Part 8 was literally unprecedented, but in a way that left many viewers unsatisfied (myself excluded). There were hardly any words spoken throughout the entire hour long episode, and the few words that were spoken quickly became nightmare fuel.

As for The Finale, fans were not divided over the quality of the episode, as it was unanimously praised. Instead, half the fanbase found itself devastated as Lynch left them with yet another painful cliffhanger, while the other half was amazed by the mystical ambiguity of the ending.

Both of these sentiments can effectively hold true for the entire series, and that is precisely the point. It makes you think. Essentially one’s enjoyment of Twin Peaks as a whole, comes down to a single preference. Do you like your film presented in a straightforward, easy to digest fashion? Or in a nonlinear, mind-bending way? If you prefer the latter, like myself, then you should definitely add Lynch’s masterpiece to your watchlist, as it is an experience that no piece of entertainment can truly compare to

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Twin Peaks: Our TV Critic Takes a Look at the New Series