There was a time when talking about deep art on television would lead to laughter or derision.
And then came Twin Peaks.
It debuted in 1990 and ran for two seasons. David Lynch and Mark Frost produced the series that broke all the molds, but it’s David Lynch who has to get the greatest credit for the mind-bending originality of the show. He eventually left the show, frustrated by the constraints of network television. After a disappointing second season, it was cancelled. Lynch’s artistic vision was hampered by the network wanting a more traditional resolution to the central story.
The series revolved around the discovery of the body of the homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. FBI agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan is called to the small fictional Washington town to investigate. Mystery abounds in the town of Twin Peaks and in the surrounding woods. Cooper is not afraid to dive deep into the mystery. Twin Peaks is a mill town full of weird and colorful characters, and intriguing story lines – very soap-operaish at times. The show was addictive because of all those intersecting story lines. But Dale Cooper is both the center of the plot and the moral center of the series.
In a recent brief interview with MacLachlan in Esquire, he describes his character:
Cooper is maybe my favorite character. There is a lot in him that is similar to me: his enthusiasm for coffee, Douglas firs, and doughnuts. He tries to figure out who people are before he makes a judgment about them. He’s the eccentric in the middle of an even crazier world, but he’s your point person. He’s all you’ve got going in.
Dale Cooper is one of the most complex and sympathetic characters in recent memory. He is a good person, with an awareness of the shadow side of life. He is a standout in a richly textured show of fascinating people and mystery. He is our guide, but he is as perplexed by the dark world he has entered, as any of us. But he is a brave explorer.
Twin Peaks was an amazing show for people who had grown up with formulaic shows to entertain you, sell stuff or put you to sleep. Twin Peaks was much greater in its ambitions. It played with depth psychology and it’s major themes, in a highly stylistic way. The music by Angelo Badalamenti with David Lynch, is as important as the visuals. The soundtrack drives the mood and the meaning of the narrative. The Twin Peaks music has almost given birth to a genre of music within the ambient category. There was an explosion of this kind of music composed in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which continues to this day. This music is timeless and often sounds like a moody soundtrack to some movie not seen, but imagined.
The new series just began and it is a wild ride. It is available with on Crave TV in Canada and Showtime in the U.S. I’ve seen the first three episodes. The new series is not a sentimental return to that smaller town of characters caught up in a murder mystery surrounded by soap opera shenanigans and intrigue. The new series is weirder, darker, broader, and certainly it will be deeper. There is apparently 18 hours of this in total and I’ve seen the first three. Characters have returned, with Dale Cooper still number one and we are still in Twin Peaks, but we’re also in New York City, Las Vegas, and a smaller town in South Dakota so far. I recommend that you watch at least part of the first series before embarking on the second, although for some people at least, the second one will stand up on its own. It would really add to the second series if you have a sense of the characters and the moods of Twin Peaks. The actual story lines are less important than the broad outline of the story arc and the explorations of the human journey. Cooper, the central character of the new series remains that, but he’s a lot more complex, as the final scene from the first series suggested.
We’ve come a long way in the last twenty-five years and Twin Peaks has been part of the popular culture evolution. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the new series, but it will not be a simple or gentle journey. Who knows what effect the new series will have on TV and popular culture? But this is not your parents’ Twin Peaks. David Lynch is too original for that.
To fully understand the greatness of Twin Peaks you would have to ignore the last twenty five years of television that was profoundly changed by Twin Peaks and with it, the realization that television could produce art. You can’t fully understand the importance of any person or event after the fact, unless you experienced life before that person or event. Twin Peaks was such an event, but it remains a compelling and entertaining experience. Watch the old episodes – particularly the first season, if you can, before David Lynch and Twin Peaks returns. And if you haven’t already, any of David Lynch‘s films deserve your attention. He is a gifted filmmaker.