Darkness falls across the land…
The midnight hour is close at hand…
Actually, October’s just getting started, so we’re a ways off from that point. In the meantime, it’s that magical period of building momentum for Halloween that leads to theme articles and seasonal binging.
Never one to miss this, I couldn’t resist taking on a project. Elessar and Starshine have the horror films all very nicely wrapped up right now, and given most of my work here has been for television, I grabbed a shovel and headed out to the crossroads at midnight to unearth and bring you…
RERUNS FROM THE CRYPT
(…okay, in a less dramatic flourish, I picked several shorter supernatural/horror-related shows to give general overviews to each week.)
Which brings us to now.
I don’t know who else relates, but I find it pretty fascinating to look back on older shows after having not watched them for a long while. The most common association people tend to think of is those examples where you peel back the nostalgia and realize some things have NOT aged well (the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation come to mind).
Every so often, you find those shows that time has actually improved the show. That was the impression I got on looking back at David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult classic Twin Peaks. This is based on the fact it’s still a very solid series on its own, and also the moment of realizing a lot of the different practices back then are now considered to be common practice by today’s standards. One of the big breakthroughs came first and foremost with the show’s pitch.
Debuting in 1990, the show was breaking for a lot of the norm on prime time television for the time, sporting a serial storyline with an overarcing narrative propelled along by its own internal mysteries (further added to by supplemental materials) and having a pre-determined goal for the show to aim for (though that resulted in some mixed results in season two, but we’ll get to that later).
That arc/goal in this case being one Laura Palmer – well-liked, upstanding high school girl who’s also quite dead. Right out of the gate that’s brought up when her dead body is found in the first few minutes of the pilot. As the locals of Twin Peaks grieve, FBI investigator Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)comes to investigate the murder. With Cooper’s investigation, we begin to learn the seemingly innocent town is actually one that harbors a lot of secrets, and just when it seems like they’ve all been found out, the bottom collapses again.
About the best way I can sum up the story and feel of Twin Peaks is by looking at its ancestors and successors. On one side, the series is like a little brother to Lynch’s earlier thriller, Blue Velvet– though it dials down the psychotic violence and sexual themes for a more dreamlike and surreal sense of mystery. It even takes on a similar thematic ground – MacLachlan as an outsider to a seemingly innocent logging town who then discovers that Americana has a lot of darkness under that down-home goodness.
On the other side, one can really see the influence this show would have in the formation of Chris Carter’s The X-Files. While that was a show that had to grow into its arc story, the stylistic hallmarks are pretty easy to spot when you hold the two up for comparison, and it makes it fun to see what pieces from TP inspired what
Despite these comparisons, the show is still a unique beast unto itself, Thanks in no small part to that dreamlike element. We’re introduced fairly early on into the strange sort of mythos that the show operates on, probably most famously embodied in Cooper’s dream guide: the diminutive and backwards talking Man From Another Place – a character that even those not familiar with the show might at least recognize from being parodied elsewhere.
This feel further lends to the show’s strange appeal – it’s a setting that largely places its footing in a real world, but one with dashes of weirdness, such as Cooper’s investigation style, or some of the odder members of the local community (like Nadine Hurley or the Log Lady- yes, that is the name they give her in the credits.)
Besides the absolute weirdness of it all, the cast of players in this are a big part of the show’s charm as well. As outsider Dale Cooper, MacLachlan gave one of the best performances of his career- another case of where this show seemed to be ahead of current trends. His character is like a variant on the Sherlock Holmes-esque eccentric investigator before it got driven into the ground.
Strangely, where that trope nowadays usually results in the character being overly jerkish to the point where you question why other people put up with it, Cooper swings to the other extreme – despite his seeming genius, he’s also a man who’s completely curious and enthusiastic about everything around him (when we first meet him, he’s taken with the local trees, for example). His methods are bizarre, but in the end, he’s just a man determined to do the right thing and enjoy the occasional damn good cup of coffee along the way.
Sharing the protagonist spot, Michael Ontkean is a good fit as local sheriff Harry S. Truman, the straight an of the team. From there, it becomes tricky to pick out individual standouts, both in terms of general concept and the people playing them. In fact, a lot of this cast is now a good game of “You Might Remember Me From…” including character actors and Lynch veterans like Ray Wise, Piper Laurie, Everett McGill, Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen, and Jack Nance (yep, Eraserhead himself).
Actually, that’s not entirely true: I do want to give a shout-out to two players here, since if I don’t do it now, I won’t get to next week – Laurie and Nance get a lot of mileage out of their stint as bickering couple Catherine and Pete Martell. Laurie’s turn as the scheming Catherine (along with her partner in crime, Richard Beymer as Ben Horne) is a great ‘love to hate’ turn in antagonism, but really, some of her best moments are those moments of her and Nance taking passive-aggressive potshots at one another.
Going back to the show’s atmosphere, two of the other elements that really bring that out in this – the overall visual and directorial style, including Lynch helming several episodes, makes for some memorable sequences in the show, and the show’s soundtrack. Composer Angelo Badalamenti’s work is one of the more memorable television soundtracks I’ve heard, particularly the strangely relaxing opening theme is one that my head keeps summing up in one word: zen.
Unless you’re not a fan of its style (and you’ll likely know that for yourself by the end of the pilot) the one drawback to the first season is that it’s a short ride. Alongside the pilot, there are only seven episodes before you get to the fateful cliffhanger. This admittedly, isn’t that damning overall. I mean, being left wanting more is certainly better than being hit with too much, but still, it does leave you jumping into season two THAT much faster to see where things go.
Sorry I’m a little vague on some of the details here – it’s the drawback of trying to discuss a full season of television and keep it short. Believe me, this is a show I could go on talking about for a good long while. It’s a series that was very different for its time, and it’s fascinating to see how influential time has proven it. Even beyond that, it’s still a unique experience just taken on its own. Again, you may not like the style, but it’s still worth at least giving a try first to find out all the same.
That takes us to the end of the first season. Come back next week for the continuation of this project, and the conclusion of the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer.
Till next time.
-Utterly weird style and cast in the best sense
-Serial storyline builds a good momentum in playing up the mystery
-Ends on a cliffhanger just as it’s really building up
-True to form for David Lynch, you’ll either love it or hate. Mileage WILL vary