Set in a dreamy Washington town where the owls are not what they seem, and a cup of dame fine coffee carries near mythic gravity, "Twin Peaks" rocketed into American popular culture, deceptively propelled by the question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?"
Twenty years ago this month, David Lynch ("Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet") launched the series, and twisted a simple murder plot device into the springboard for a bizarre blend of supernatural horror, comedy, music, classic movies and hypnotic madness. In fact, Lynch seemed to relish dismantling television conventions.
Running two seasons from April 1990 through June 1991, "Twin Peaks" was created and produced by Lynch and Mark Frost ("Hill Street Blues," "4: Rise of the Silver Surfer"). It earned 12 Emmy nominations, and Golden Globe Awards for best dramatic series, best dramatic actor (Kyle MacLachlan) and best supporting actress (Piper Laurie). In 2008, "Twin Peaks" captured a Saturn Award for Best Retro Television Series for its The Definitive Gold Box Edition DVD; this complete collection is a must buy for fans.
My introduction to the series came in late 1990 during a landmark moment for the show -- the death of Maddy (Sheryl Lee) in Episode 14. Directed by Lynch from a script by Frost, the episode featured a mesmerizing concluding segment of imagery, music and violence.
For me, this sequence had a profound impact; everything on television prior to it paled in comparison. From the startlingly brutal attack on Maddy by Killer Bob (Frank Silva), to Julie Cruise's haunting performance at the Roadhouse as a silent wave of sadness strikes the bar's patrons, this is one of the rare moments in television -- or film, for that matter -- where a director and writer unite to create a seamless, transcending experience.
To Lynch, the question of "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was only a catalyst to examine the underbelly of a town cloaked in mysteries and murky characters. ABC, desperate to emerge from ratings oblivion, reluctantly accepted Lynch's peculiar ideas, but soon began backpedalling, demanding a resolution to Laura's death -- a death that Lynch never intended to resolve.
The network got their wish, but at a cost. Lynch became dismayed by ABC's meddling, and he and Frost participated less as the series progressed. Several shorter story arcs were introduced at this point in an attempt to attract new viewers, but these additions only seemed to derail what made the series so special to begin with. "Twin Peaks" seemed to lose part of its magic.
"ABC were profoundly uncomfortable with this show from the very beginning," Frost said during an interview with The Observer. "They'd moved us to a dreadful time slot for the second season -- Saturday night at 10 p.m. when you mostly had the living dead home watching television."
After Episode 29, "Twin Peaks" was canceled, concluding on a spectacular, but grim cliffhanger helmed by Lynch.
Despite the behind-the-scenes drama of Season 2, the series as a whole lost little luster in the eyes of many. Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Hayward, was particularly enamored by Lynch's creation.
"We were at the helm of a piece of heaven on 'Twin Peaks' and we just went where David Lynch told us," Boyle said. "That might sound very obscure but it really is true. How he sees the world is how we should all see the world."
Helping Lynch tailor his unique vision was composer Angelo Badalamenti. His music dominated the series, and often carried a spellbinding level of surrealism. Combined with the show's lush cinematography -- an alien concept in television at the time -- Badalamenti's music elevated the series to unprecedented heights.
Equally essential to "Twin Peaks" was FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) -- one of the greatest television characters of all time. Obsessed with a good cup of coffee and cherry pie, Cooper is a fascinating mix of quirky mannerisms, spirituality and amazing deductive prowess.
Having been such a remarkable achievement, "Twin Peaks" seems ripe for a continuation. Could a return be possible some day?
The series was followed in 1992 by the film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me," which served as both a prologue and epilogue. Lynch's 220-minute director's cut was butchered into a 135-minute abomination for theaters. It left few glimpses of what audiences loved about the series. The possibility of a "Fire Walk With Me" director's cut release still remains, which would include a scene showing Agent Cooper's fate after Episode 29.
Lynch also reportedly said his film "Lost Highway" takes place in the "Twin Peaks" universe, and "Mulholland Dr." was initially conceived as the story of Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) going to Hollywood. "Mulholland Dr." is now poised for a sequel, according to actress Laura Harring, who played Rita in the film.
In addition, Frost indicates there was recent interest in a "Twin Peaks" continuation.
"There has been a lot of talk of the years of finding some way to round it off and we did explore that a couple of years ago, but it became impractical from a story standpoint," Frost explained. "I mean all the actors are 20 years older, it's a little harder to sell that Audrey is still in high school. It was great fun while it lasted, and it's certainly fun to see that people are still enjoying it today."
While Frost has a point, many fans would welcome a more practical approach: setting the series 20 years later, with a cast of new and old characters. Perhaps adjusting the series to 25 years later would be better, especially considering Cooper's entrapment in the Black Lodge.
After all, like the Black Lodge's dancing dwarf said, that gum is coming back in style.
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