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Twin Peaks defies description. There is no easy way to place this series or describe it in an easily digestible way.
However, Twin Peaks is also the ultimate indicator of how something can be groundbreaking and influential without necessarily being "good". What do I mean by that? Let me elaborate.
Twin Peaks did have a good first season—with the best pilot ever I may add. But even watching it fresh I knew there was no way the show would be able to hold the interest for so long. After the initial setup, that plot was almost totally abandoned until sixteen episodes later. It was a whole bunch of people making it up as they go. There's nothing wrong with that, but at least be honest about it!
Still, it was certainly its own thing and had a lasting legacy on TV? Is it worth watching? Probably not, but it was at least different. There are other, similar shows that were handled better, but Twin Peaks is its own world. A mess, but a distinct, unusual, irreplicable mess.
Growing up, most of what my parents and immediate family watched on TV was soap operas, sitcoms, game shows, you know the kind. Nothing wrong with that, but that's pretty much entirely to blame for my relative late blooming in discovering the truly classic television series that have defined the medium throughout decades. But there was one thing that my family kept talking about with a unique kind of reverence... namely, Twin Peaks.
Young and thus unfit to actually watch it though I was, I managed to overhear a number of conversations about it, piecing together an image of the show in my head. It became like some great and ominous mystery stuck in the back of my mind. For years, I kinda feared actually watching it for fear that it might not live up to my admittedly overly-ambitious imagination... but one night, it came on during one of my monthly late-night TV binges as a teenager. And, well... here I am reviewing it on the eve of its 25th anniversary. You might say it's something I'll never forget.
On the surface, Twin Peaks is a rather straight-forward small-town murder mystery, a source of good drama in and of itself. But David Lynch never does anything straight-forward (...except that one time). The whole thing plays out with the logic of a strange fever dream: one day, our chipper FBI lead investigator is conducting a procedural scan of a body for clues; the next, he's utilizing an old Tibetan technique of throwing rocks at glass jars to narrow down a list of suspects. It shouldn't make sense, but in Lynch's world... it kinda does. Aside from the main mystery, everyone (even the kindly lumberjack and his fish-filtered coffee; R.I.P. Jack Nance) got some sort of strange secret in this town, some ominous, some downright bizarre.
The almost suffocating aura of mystery is enhanced by that repetitive, dreamlike, and claustrophobic jazz score. At its best, it makes for some of the most atmospheric and transporting television of all time. Sadly, the show lost its way upon Lynch's departure... though, to be fair, Lynch is probably the only person in the world whose brain convolutions matches the exact mold needed to do it right. For a season and a half at least Twin Peaks was a bold and unforgettable experiment not likely to be seen again.
Maybe's it's because I was too young to watch it when it was first on TV, and so first saw episodes back-to-back on DVD, but this series did very little for me. You will often hear the word "quirky" to describe it, and that's accurate. Unfortunately, that's not much substance to support all that quirkiness — just more quirkiness. What the series needs to hold all that quirkiness together and give it a framework is a cohesive plan, but the writers freely admit that they didn't have one. When the big question is "Who killed Laura Palmer?" the writers should not be responding with "Don't know. We haven't decided yet."
Twin Peaks is one of those ineffably sublime and absurd things which description only serves to describe less. It's a task for better wordsmiths, but I'll try.
Some *spoilers* to follow:
This show was born a decade or two early for television. It's an amalgam of cheese, melodrama, Dadaist humor, symbolism, classic Lynchian weirdness, and more. It is, in ways, both a parody of soap operas and a supernatural interpretation of one. If you don't get it, you don't get it. (Part of the joke is that, sometimes, there is nothing to "get".) If you do "get it", you'll feel that this was a show made for you. Of special note is the wonderful musical score by Angelo Badalamenti.
Don't look for any plans or myth arc here; Peaks was written without a plan, and it shows. Characters work more on magic and intuition than sense. The town of Twin Peaks is quirky, small-town with a seedy side, Tim Burton on a paranoid drug trip. You will get no explanations other than what's already there (or what's found in the viewers' minds). The quality of episodes varies as well. When it's good, it's very, very good; when Peaks is bad it's time to turn off the screen. It is also an example of one of the worst cases of executive meddling in television.
The first season is without a doubt the better part of the series. The second season, due to network pressures and an increasingly tuned-out audience, devolved into incomprehensibility. In other words, writers went full "artist" on the viewers. *Spoiler alert* Solving the central mystery of the show took out its heart. At the very first episode, Laura Palmer, unwrapped like a wilted blue rose, set the tone. Putting her to rest, so to speak, left the writers without a beat to follow. This is where the executive meddling came in.
Peaks stands as an icon, an aberration, a warning, an inspiration. Boundaries were pushed in terms of what television could do. But it also showed what could not be done. Push the audience *too* far and they won't come back. Transcendent in its bizarreness, Peaks has had a lasting impact on television. Its fingerprints are smudged all over the X-Files and LOST, to name a few shows. It was the epitome of a flamboyant failure.
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