Recently a friend admitted he hasn’t seen Twin Peaks, and asked me if it holds up to TV today. I hit him with a log and told him I’ve been too big a fan too long to have any objectivity. But I started thinking about it, and I don’t think a yes or no answer does justice to the question.
Twin Peaks was a bit of an experiment. The network took a chance on something different and it took off. “Who killed Laura Palmer?” became an international issue. The build up was tremendous, but the network wanted the mystery solved shortly into season two, basically dismantling the underlying story engine.
The pilot episode of Twin Peaks remains one of the best pieces of television ever made. The opening pulls us into the town where dozens of unique characters live idiosyncratic lives and there are secrets in every shadow. The writing is incredible, and the visual style, oneiric music and sense of place form an absorbing cinematic landscape.
Mark Frost and David Lynch mapped out the full first season before production (a mid-season pick-up of 7 episodes), and I think the show grew into its serial form well, expanding the town and getting markedly stranger. Many shows take us into weird territory these days, but they didn’t then, and even now they can’t touch Twin Peaks‘ sense of style.
The second season was much more troubled. 22 episodes were written on the fly and they proceeded with a fairly embattled production. This season comes on strong, and then after its finest moments the story begins to lag. Lynch and Frost were away from the production on other projects, and gradually the humour became more absurd, the mystery lost traction, and it took nearly to the end of the second season to start producing great TV again.
So does Twin Peaks hold up? It’s a very uneven show. When they were in the groove, they made some of the finest television of all time. When they lost their way, some of it is weak and just plain silly. If you can get past the surface flaws and into the mythological space of the show, the dream realms and darkness in the woods, it’s a captivating world you’ll never want to leave.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch the pilot. It is 90 minutes, the same runtime as most throwaway comedies, and it is available on Netflix. (Make sure you don’t watch the European version of the pilot, as it has a false ending.) If it doesn’t grab you, you can walk away, but I might look at you funny.