When a TV executive saw the pilot for the original “Twin Peaks” back in 1990, he called it “Norman Rockwell meets Salvador Dali.” If he were to witness the revival, he’d still recognize the Dali show, but Rockwell has long since left the building, to be replaced by an art installation that only occasionally flickers into life.
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I loved David Lynch’s first two seasons of “Twin Peaks.” After watching the pilot in April 1990, I traded in my old video recorder – which was devouring tapes the way Godzilla chewed cars – and bought a new one to make sure I didn’t miss a moment. Because when Lynch’s murder-mystery first aired, it was funny, scary, unsettling, charming – and completely unlike anything else.
Sure, the second season was erratic and suffered at the hands of meddling TV execs who insisted that the killer of teenager Laura Palmer be revealed as soon as possible. But it remained landmark television. Indeed, its influence can still be felt today, from the likes of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” to “The Leftovers” and “Fargo.”
I revisited the original pilot episode 24 hours before watching the first part of the reboot, dubious if it could be anywhere near as good as memory had it. After all, my recollections of damned fine cherry pie, hot coffee and attractive waitresses made it sound more like a great café than a TV show.
But I was amazed by how well the pilot has dated. Indeed, having now seen both the pilot and the new episode back to back, I’m more inclined to rewatch the first and second seasons, because the quirkiness and sheer drama there is largely absent (so far, anyway) in the third season.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that season three is not exactly strong on charm or humor. Lynch long ago traded the mysterious for the wilfully enigmatic, the nightmarish visions for one long fever dream. “Twin Peaks” still has the power to shock at times, but this is largely 217 characters (the number of actors in the new season) in search of an author.
There’s a simple Litmus Test to check whether you’ll love the new “Twin Peaks.” If you prefer “Mulholland Drive” to “Blue Velvet,” “Lost Highway” to “Wild at Heart” and “Fire Walk With Me” to the original “Twin Peaks,” there’s probably a lot here to keep you entertained. The rest of us may be in danger of getting RSI from all the head-scratching and head-shaking, though.
Lynch calls the new show “a feature film in 18 parts,” which is bad news for those of us who couldn’t make it through the three hours of his last movie, “Inland Empire,” in 2006. There’s a lot going on in the first two hours of the new season, but also, in a typically Lynchian way, very little.
The show looks fantastic (Showtime has clearly spared no expense in giving Lynch the biggest and shiniest toolbox), but it’s a worry when the biggest thrill comes from seeing those Day-Glo green title credits at the beginning and hearing Angelo Badalamenti’s still lush soundtrack.
Several familiar faces are returning, which is both welcoming and jolting. I once found a link to a story online saying “‘Twin Peaks’ Stars: Where Are They Now?” and it literally took me five days to pluck up the courage to click on it. After all, one of the most unusual things about the original show is how few of its stars went on to have big careers – David Duchovny is probably the only one who managed it, unless you count appearances in Lifetime movies – and B-list actors get B-list face-lifts.
Yet here they are, 27 years on, like old friends – police receptionist Lucy and her overly sensitive police partner Andy; waitress Shelly and motorbike rebel James; hotelier Benjamin Horne and his pot-growing brother Jerry; the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson, whose scenes were shot before she died of cancer in 2015).
And then, of course, there’s Agent Cooper himself (Kyle MacLachlan), who, as devotees of the original will know, was stuck in the Black Lodge at the end of season two. He’s still there now, along with some other familiar faces. (I’d love to know what people who are watching “Twin Peaks” for the first time make of all this, because the show doesn’t provide any explanatory clues for the beginner.)
Meanwhile, Cooper’s evil doppelganger has spent the intervening 25 years growing his hair and trying to develop a menacing look, all the while trying to ensure he never goes back to the Black Lodge.
There are various other plots (which could be sub-plots, could be sub-sub-plots or could be the main plot – who knows with Lynch?), one of which involves a young man in New York staring at and documenting a giant glass box at the behest of a mysterious billionaire (aren’t they all?); a grizzly murder in South Dakota that has shades of “Fargo” and is the most promising storyline thus far; some shenanigans in Vegas; and Police Deputy Hawk (another returnee, Michael Horse) receiving a message from the Log Lady that may help track down the real Agent Cooper.
The two hours are full of lines that sound important (“Remember 430. Richard and Linda. Two birds with one stone”) but probably aren’t, and sometimes it’s hard not to see this as the most esoteric ad ever for David Lynch’s organic coffee (with cameos from actor friends like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ashley Judd).
Perhaps the show’s biggest achievement is that, a quarter of a century on, so many people still care about “Twin Peaks.” I think fewer people will care about it after the reboot, but it will forever retain a special place in popular culture. I mean, can you imagine anyone being excited if, in 2038, Nic Pizzolatto reveals plans to make a third season of “True Detective”? (“Too soon!” will be the response of anyone who remembers the second season.)
The new season of “Twin Peaks” has moments of promise, but nothing more. It may be blasphemous talk, but I’d have preferred it if someone other than Lynch took a crack at the series – someone like Duncan Jones, for example. I’ll keep watching, but more out of loyalty to the brand than anything else.
Still, at least one person will be happy to see it. Because with the return of “Twin Peaks,” for the next few months at least, Donald Trump is no longer the most batshit crazy show on U.S. television.
The online response
The biggest difference between “Twin Peaks” 1990 and “Twin Peaks” 2017 is the presence nowadays of an online community to analyze every single last frame and nuance. And there were some suitably confused tweets from viewers after Sunday’s premiere:
There were also suitably freaked-out viewers:
There were also some who got into the spirit of things:
Finally, if you need a primer on understanding David Lynch’s work, here’s a great place to start:
And if you’re coming to season three in need of a refresher on what went before, here’s a much-needed guide: