I’m going to say it right now. I am not a fan of David Lynch’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, and I haven’t yet seen Eraserhead (1977), which is supposed to be his definitive work. But I can tell you that I hated Mulholland Drive (2001). Don’t get me wrong, I can actually understand why others would enjoy his work, even if it isn’t my particular cup of tea. It’s very inventive and cerebral and a number of other colorful adjectives. But mostly, it’s just flat-out strange. So strange, that it kind of loses me.
So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance to watch Twin Peaks (1990-1991), Mr. Lynch’s only television series, even though I had heard many good things about it. But then, one day, I was flipping through my Netflix for something to watch and saw it under the new releases. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to watch a couple episodes, just to see what the hubbub was about.
And now, I can say that I am kind of sad that David Lynch and his partner, Mark Frost haven’t done more TV.
Twin Peaks takes place in the fictional Washington town of, you guessed it, Twin Peaks. A young woman named Laura Palmer is murdered under mysterious circumstances, and an FBI agent named Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) is brought in to investigate. Most of the series is just spent on the investigation of Laura’s murder and all of the dark secrets of the residents of Twin Peaks. Those dark secrets usually involve infidelity. Seriously, everyone in the town of Twin Peaks is sleeping with everyone else in Twin Peaks.
It sounds like just a procedural crime drama, and for the first 3/4 of the series or so, it kind of is. The plot isn’t really what’s interesting about the show, but rather the characters and their individual stories. And Twin Peaks is chock-full of interesting and entertaining characters.
In fact, I’m just going to say this now: Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Dale Cooper is one of my favorite performances in a television series ever. I adore that character. When he was first introduced, I just figured he’d just be one of those FBI agents that appear in everything that involves the FBI: obsessed with the job, practically emotionless, and rude. You know, “Not anymore, you’re not”. But he wasn’t. He takes great joy in his job, he’s very courteous and respectful of the Twin Peaks natives, he keeps the local police force deeply involved with the investigation, he’s considerate of everyone’s feelings, he’s excellent at his job and follows non-traditional forms of investigation, and he becomes visibly excited at the prospect of freshly baked pie. And MacLachlan plays the part to perfection. I found myself smiling every time Agent Cooper appeared onscreen because I knew the scene was going to be great, simply because he was in it.
Awesome as he is, Dale is hardly the only character, even though he totally steals the show. Besides him, most of the acting is really good. Every character with a name has their own flaws, quirks, secrets, and story. The dialogue is written brilliantly, and that combined with the quality acting really adds to the overall atmosphere and setting. Even minor characters that don’t really have anything to do with the story like Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and Dick Tremayne (Ian Buchanan) get considerable screentime and character development so that when they are doing something involved with the more major characters or the plot, you’re still just as absorbed in the scene. You’re made to care about each one of the characters, no matter how minor, so that you never care any less about what’s happening at any particular moment.
What’s cool, in my opinion, is that most of the actors in Twin Peaks are fairly unknown. Kyle MacLachlan appeared in a couple other David Lynch projects, but at the time, that was it. And Lara Flynn Boyle was fairly well-known. And sure, Heather Graham shows up later in the second season. But aside from that, I’m sure almost all of the regular characters are going to be recognized because of Twin Peaks. Then, scattered throughout the series, there were some returning roles for more famous actors playing minor characters.
The weird thing is, though all of the minor characters are portrayed well, I actually have some problems with some of the more important characters. Sheriff Harry S. Truman for instance…
Yes, there is a character named Harry S. Truman, but it is not the former US President. He’s the sheriff of Twin Peaks, played by Michael Ontkean. And though his performance throughout the series is pretty solid, I’ll say this: Michael Ontkean cannot yell in anger. He does this a couple times, and every time he did, I burst out laughing. He’s just so bad at it.
And maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really care for the charatcer of Jocelyn Packard (Joan Chen). It seemed really difficult for Ms. Chen to convey any kind of emotion. The performance wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely a bit bland. I found it difficult to care about her character, which kind of sucks, considering how important she becomes to the overall story. There’s a point in the middle of the series where she runs away somewhere for a long while. While she was gone, I kind of forgot she existed until someone mentioned her.
But the one that really gets me is the character of James Hurley (James Marshall). I think he sucks. I think every line of dialogue that he speaks is boring. And this kind of punches the series in the face, because James is an incredibly important character. At least early on, he is. I just don’t think the performance is any good. At first, I tolerated him because he was important, and I was interested enough in the story to tolerate one poor performance. But later on, he just grated on my nerves. There’s a point near the end of the series where he leaves Twin Peaks. Everything he does has nothing to do with anyone else. The things he’s doing don’t affect anyone that’s actually part of the story, so why should we care about what happens? Perhaps it would have been intertwined later, but we’ll never know. More on that later.
Besides the mostly good characters and acting, there are a few little things that David Lynch and Mark Frost added that really helped to immerse you in their show. Example: Twin Peaks is a port town, so throughout the day, ships would be docking and departing. So, every once in a while, you’ll hear a foghorn in the background. It’s never too loud or invasive, and many times, you probably wouldn’t even notice it. But this tiny little detail that most other people wouldn’t have bothered with adds tremendously to the atmosphere of the show, even if it’s only subconsciously.
You may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about the story. That’s because there’s a lot to talk about.
Like I mentioned earlier, it starts out like a simple, procedural, murder/mystery. And it continues this way for a great deal of the series. It’s good and gripping, but I had always seen it referred to as a sci-fi/drama. And I simply couldn’t figure that out. There’s very little of that iconic, utterly mind-imploding, super-strange Lynchism. There are a couple really bizarre scenes thrown in there involving a dancing, garbled little person in a fancy red suit. But they’re usually dreams or hallucinations or something, so they’re going to be weird. They’re dreams.
Throughout the first part of the series, there’s really only one thing that’s clearly out of the ordinary: the mysterious man with long, dirty, white hair and a jean jacket. And though a jean jacket is certainly out of the ordinary, that it not the thing to which I’m referring.
But then, later on, Twin Peaks takes a hard left turn and enters the city of “Whaaaaat?!”. It’s straight up bizarre. And it takes a little while to get any idea about what’s actually happening. And I suddenly understood why it was called sci-fi (though honestly, I still think that’s wrong. It’s more like supernatural fantasy). You finally find out what happened, who killed Laura Palmer, and it turns out that it was much more otherworldly and supernatural than the first part of the series had implied. It’s actually really difficult to make any sense of it unless you sit and really think about it.
That’s usually where David Lynch loses me. Take Mulholland Drive for example. It spent so much effort just making the movie weird and confusing and symbolic that it was difficult to really develop the characters enough for me to actually care. And though the movie is visually and cinematically appealing and deeply symbolic, since I didn’t really care about the characters, I didn’t really care about the movie.
And that’s why I think David Lynch should do more television. With a long series like Twin Peaks, he was able to spend much more time developing the characters and allowing me to care for them before thrusting me into his signature weirdness and symbolism. It’s not easy to fit that much symbolism and oddness plus enough character development into a two hour movie. So, as a result, I hate Mulholland Drive, but love Twin Peaks.
Sadly, the show only got two seasons. The ratings dropped for various reasons and Twin Peaks was never renewed for a third season. This meant that the final episode ended on a huge cliffhanger. That’s really sad considering how inventive, innovative, and flat-out good the show was. There was a feature-length film prequel entitled Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me released a couple years later. I haven’t seen it yet, but since it’s a prequel, it obviously doesn’t bring any closure to the series, so I haven’t gone out of my way to get it.
This review is a milestone for two reasons. One, it’s my first television review. And two, I got through the whole thing without using a curse word!