Twin Peaks had to be interesting to see back in 1990. It was at a time when TV largely stayed in their lanes and never threatened to disturb the status quo. But that’s what happens when you get David Lynch, then of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, have the audacity to condescend to TV and bring his weird brand of black lodges and dancing little people in small red rooms with striped floors. For a few years now, I’ve been attempting to experience this show and see what makes it special. After all the hype, I heard about the latest revival by Showtime from last summer, I wanted to review the first two seasons and share some thoughts as someone who was completely new to it and was totally out of the loop as this show was way before my time. I also wanted to give it a chance as it’s considered a pioneer of Peak TV and David Lynch has made things that I’ve liked in the past, so I wanted to see what his vision would look like if it was contained in a network TV show.
A lot of what also seemed to resonate with people was the odd and weird tone, which definitely stands out as it’s most distinctive trait. But that actually wasn’t what my favorite part of the show was. What actually ended up being my favorite part of the show was FBI Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan. Growing up, this show was always presented as a quirky little show in a quirky little town with all these seemingly nice people where there’s something dark beneath the surface. While that synopsis isn’t entirely false, it’s not entirely a secret about a majority of the characters are crappy people and for this reviewer, it’s a lot to take after awhile. I’m not saying that I want people to hug and do ‘Hands Across America’ by the episode’s end. I can watch a marathon of Always Sunny and deal with those garbage people, but maybe it’s because in a comedy, it’s more bearable to deal with since I know everything will deservedly fail for them. Here though, it seems as if we have to be forced to see terrible things being done by terrible people because that’s just how things are and it doesn’t seem like Lynch is a rush to get them their just desserts. It also doesn’t help that for the first season, there’s not a lot of levity to it and when there is, it doesn’t always work for me. But in a show, if I’m committing to following these characters week to week and episode to episode, then I need to find something in them that’s worth a damn. The closest that the show comes to giving me someone to care about that I want is from Cooper. In a show full of domestic abusers, murderers, and drug dealers, having someone be a decent person is actually a good thing. Usually these type of people on a show are the worst kind of character because they’re the most boring, but the fact that he’s so by the book, not just in his job, but in his world view is a breath of fresh air. But he is realistic about things and is aware of how intense and severe things get for him. He seems to appreciate the many things around him like coffee. MacLachlan makes the character optimistic to a point that it might become a bit much, but it weirdly never does. There’s an energy to his performance that perks the show up whenever something heavy happens or it’s moving like molasses, which is most of this show. The fact that he’s so upbeat, despite that it juxtaposes the setting and the show as a whole. But because of this, he maybe becomes the most likable and relatable character because like many viewers watching this back then, he’s an unassuming viewer that has no idea of the horrors that he’s about to witness.
His friendship with Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) is one of the more interesting TV male friendships I’ve seen in some time. While it makes sense that they can get along as they are very similar yet very different. They’re refreshing in that while they come from different worlds, they are able to get along pretty easily. There’s no real conflict between them, they’re able to work on the case pretty easily with no problem as they are able to work together, and go along with each other’s ideas. It’s as if they were intentionally attempting to subvert the buddy cop trope and it’s successful for what Lynch and the writers do with it. The rest of the police department is it’s own weird show as there’s also an office romance occurring between a deputy named Andy (Harry Goaz) and the department’s receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson). This is probably the funniest part of the show mainly because the two actors seem to be playing it as a comedy and for that specific weirdly added tone to the show, it works thanks to the charm the two actors bring to it. An Indian sheriff named Hawk is also there and he’s supposed to be the Native American character who knows everything about the supernatural that will help them with the case because of course he is and of course it does. That said, he is one of the few people that is more grounded and sensible than many of the residents of the town, so they at least develop him more as the show continues.
Outside of the police department, this show is a real mixed bag. A lot of the first season concerns what Laura Palmer might have been like and what led to her death. Admittedly, I didn’t really see what made her so special other than there were people who liked her. Ray Wise also appears as Laura’s businessman father, Leland, who takes the death extremely hard and it takes his life over in the worst ways possible. He’s so creepy and weird as he starts to lose control as the show progresses. He’s great in the role and makes a lot of his screen time memorable by going for it no matter what. However, he does handle the more grounded moments very well. Aside from all the Laura Palmer’s business, there’s so much going on that I didn’t care for with some of the other characters and felt so stretched out. The individual moments in most of the storylines are more interesting than as an overall story. That said, there’s always something interesting going on in every episode that makes it worth watching even if things don’t always come together properly. The acting though is really good for the most part with Madchen Amick as the local put upon waitress, Shelly Johnson, and Sherilyn Fenn as the daughter of hotel magnate, Ben Horne, Audrey, being among some of the other standouts.
As far as a TV show goes, a lot of the recent shows on the air in what’s being proclaimed as the “Golden Age of Television” probably owes a lot to this show thanks to its serialized storytelling. As a result, it’s interesting to see what the show attempts to do with this type of storytelling, especially for a show from long ago, before serialization was a thing. The surrealism is sometimes too much for me to take, but it works more than it doesn’t. Considering how weird it was, it’s pretty impressive that someone at ABC actually looked at this and said that this was good to air. Not only that, but there were people around the country that were hooked into it despite the tone. The first season is honestly a bit of a chore to watch because of its glacial pacing. I understand that this is due to the fact that it’s a satirical take on prime time soap operas that were airing during this time, so that was totally lost on me. I still liked it mainly because of Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S. Truman. The Laura Palmer stuff is interesting at first, but it meanders a lot before getting a solid conclusion. Some of the story-lines were interesting, but they felt too much like a soap opera to really be engaging. Season 2 is probably better mainly because it amps up the insanity, especially when it comes to Laura’s murder as it introduces an important and prominent force in the town, as well as giving a satisfying conclusion to Laura Palmer’s story. It does feel like it runs out of steam pretty quickly after some pretty important story-lines are wrapped up in the middle of the season. While Lynch is much less involved during season 2 and it shows, it still manages to maintain the trademark surrealism that always tends to catch your eye and probably leans on it harder during season 2 than it needs to. It is mostly hit and miss as an overall show as you don’t really care for a lot of the story or the characters. However, the weird tone and the twists and turns it takes with the various story-lines more than makes up for it. It probably works best as a mood piece on grief and evil than as a cohesive story. It’s definitely unlike anything that television has done or probably will ever do as it’s more experimental than most things I’ve seen on network TV.
I am giving Twin Peaks Season 1 + 2 a 3 out of 5 Hairpieces!