Twin Peaks - Season One
Back in the 90s there was a British sketch show called Harry Enfield and Chums. Two of the characters were stereotypical mechanics who had amusing conversations about various things. I haven't had time to track down the exact dialogue from one of the sketches but it went something like this:
Lee: "Did you watch that 'Twin Peaks' on the telly?
Lee: "What the hell was that all about!?"
Lance: "I've absolutely no idea."
That was it. The conversation moved on to other things. That was my first exposure to Twin Peaks and has been essentially my guiding thought whenever I have heard the show mentioned since. I knew from that that the show was successful enough that British audiences had watched it and yet weird enough that no one had understood it.
Of course most British people I know don't understand Lost and I have little sympathy for their short attention spans. So I assumed that despite the weirdness I would find Twin Peaks a lot more comprehensible than that conversation between Lee and Lance implied.
How wrong I was! Although it was on my "must watch" list the reason I began watching it this Summer is because Alan Sepinwall and Dan Fineberg (whose podcast you can find at HitFix.com) were rewatching it. Fineberg commented in their opening discussion that he had never seen a show which could even remotely compete with the weirdness that is Twin Peaks. I cannot conclude otherwise after a season which quickly lost me and seemed needlessly incomprehensible at every turn.
I can see why people were initially hooked and the first two episodes were the only time where I felt I was interested in the unfolding story. The death of Laura Palmer seemed to have smashed the veneer that Twin Peaks was just a peaceful mountain town and exposed the secrets lurking in the hearts of the characters. This was where the show's similarity with Lost was at its peak. The idea of a large ensemble with secrets all trapped in one place was very familiar. There was also the interesting use of music. The eerie Twin Peaks theme seemed to echo through the show (sort of like the whispers in the jungle) and rise and swell as each character realized how Laura's death affected them. The similarities though were short lived.
The tone of the early exchanges was melodramatic but with a creepy edge which kept things interesting. Then entered FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and suddenly the show seemed to have taken an abrupt turn. Not only was Cooper ludicrously talented at investigation but he was also a grinning white knight who felt un-relatable as the hero of the story. Cooper's relentless enthusiasm for coffee and pie made him seem like a comedy figure and his role as Sherlock Holmes therefore never felt very serious. The Sherriff's staff only added to this silliness with Deputy Andy dropping his gun and ditsy secretary Lucy feeling like they had come from a bad sit com.
Then came the genuinely weird parts of the show. There was Big Ed's insane wife Nadine and her obsession with silent drape runners. There was the Log Lady, so named because she carries round a log and claims that it knows something. Then you had Laura's father Leland weeping uncontrollably and dancing whenever a certain song came on and his wife who had unexplained visions of a strange man with long hair. That long haired man then ended up having a conversation with another man in a dream that Agent Cooper had. Not content with this insanity Cooper then dreams that he grows very old before finally meeting Laura Palmer in a red room with a dancing little person where they all talk backwards. Yes I just wrote that sentence. What bothered me more than the unexplained insanity was the fact that the little person then danced across the credits which seemed to remove any sense that it was part of the mystery and made it feel like weirdness for its own sake. Finally I have to mention the outrageous scene that opened up episode three where Jerry Horne walks in on a stilted family dinner to rave about how good his baguette is. His brother Ben agrees and they prance out leaving the rest of the family looking fairly depressed and then race straight to One Eyed Jacks to sleep with prostitutes.
For the first four episodes I really could see why the show had attracted an audience. The writers seemed to have captured a neat formula. The police investigation would provide the plot holding everything together and slowly we would see more and more craziness from the inhabitants of the town. However soon I began to realize that the plot threads weren't going anywhere. I already knew that we wouldn't learn who killed Laura Palmer and I didn't feel like I got to know any character (Cooper aside) beyond their surface strangeness.
The machinations over the saw mill were beyond my comprehension as everyone seemed to be trying to screw everyone else over either selling it or setting it on fire. Dr Jacoby, Bobby, Leo and Audrey all seemed like they could be interesting characters or just unhinged people and it never became clear which it was. I'm not sure when Lynch and Frost wrote the finale or if they had any intention of providing a satisfying conclusion. Alan Sepinwall claims that they didn't think the show would get renewed. However that is the only way I could see them justifying the finale they presented. The final episode leaves you with a bunch of twists to set up Season Two. It looked like Jacques and Leo were responsible for Laura's murder but all the shooting and killing in the finale suggests it was a bit more complex than that.
I feel no desire to watch Season Two. These eight episodes felt like a slog at times and I dread to think what twenty three would feel like. I think Twin Peaks has aged badly and it's always tough to review something which I am now over twenty years removed from. I just never cared about the characters or had any faith that there would be a payoff to all the crazy story threads.