In honor of this week’s release on Blue-ray, I thought I’d take a moment to gush a bit about the unique phenomena of Twin Peaks.
Chances are you’ve encountered it in one way or another. It routinely makes it into television “best of” lists and despite its fourteen-year absence from the airwaves, it retains a strong, committed fanbase, as well as its own annual convention.
Yet despite all this, you might be wondering, what is it about this show that keeps people coming back to it after all this time?
It’s a lot of things really. Released in 1990, Twin Peaks was way ahead of its time. Featuring long, serialized stories, along with boundary pushing content and a cinematic approach that was uncommon at the time, the show has more in common with today’s array of cable dramas than anything found in those days of network dominated programming.
More than that though, it was just so incredibly different. Part small town soap opera, part police procedural, with a heavy dose of dark surrealism thrown in for good measure, Twin Peaks is really unlike anything else. It varied wildly in tone, jumping from quirky comedy one moment, to something deeply unsettling the next.
It was unlike anything anyone had seen before, with viewers flocking to their TVs on a weekly basis to find out, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”.
That’s how it all begins, with the body of homecoming queen Laura Palmer washing up on a riverbank, naked and wrapped in plastic.
The murder sends shockwaves through the community, eventually attracting the attention of the F.B.I.
Enter special agent Dale Cooper, a boyish, well-mannered lawman with a love of coffee, a raging sweet tooth and an unusual method of gathering leads from his dreams.
As he tears into the mystery, the case expands into a number of different directions, pulling Cooper deep into the town’s dark underbelly.
This where the show truly shines, in its richly realized setting. Twin Peaks is the kind of fictional backdrop that doesn’t come around very often. It feels like a real place, the kind of setting where anything could happen and Cooper regularly rubbed shoulders with such quirky inhabitants as shady industrialist Ben Horne, bumbling Deputy Brennan, and a woman who held regular conversations with a piece of wood.
With so many possibilities, if felt like the stories could go on forever.
Which is exactly how co-creator David Lynch saw it too. His intention to indefinitely delay solving Laura’s murder was met with open hostility from network executives who felt viewers would abandon the show if they stretched out its central mystery for too long.
It’s hard to say who was right. Lynch’s contention that solving the case would hurt the show ultimately proved to be true. The show suffered an immediate loss of steam following the revelation. On the other hand, it’s debatable whether audiences would have stuck around for a show that kept its central mystery perpetually unsolved.
After the big reveal, the show limped on for awhile. Some of it good, some of it not so much, but it all climaxed in a finale that remains one of the single most insane things ever broadcast on television. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late and the show got the ax.
But the story doesn’t end there. David Lynch still had enough juice to get a feature film green lit. Having ended the series on one hell of a cliffhanger, co-creator Mark Frost wanted to take the obvious route and tie off the remaining plotlines. David Lynch went in another direction entirely, filming a cinematic prequel detailing the last few weeks of Laura’s death. It was met with something of a mixed reaction, viewers unfamiliar with the show found nothing to connect to, while long-term fans objected to its markedly darker tone as well as the absence of most of the show’s principal cast.
But here’s the good news. Lynch allegedly shot over five hours worth of footage for the film. In cutting that down to an acceptable length, a lot of scenes had to be cut, many of them featuring the members of the original cast. For years these scenes remained elusive, discussed via excerpts of the original script and the occasional publicity still.
Now, finally with the Blu-ray release, these scenes are seeing the light of day, giving fans their last glimpse of this weird and wonderful world, killed long before its time.
TV has changed a lot in the last fourteen years, but even in a world where quality shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men have become television staples, Twin Peaks remains a uniquely realized vision, a place full of fantastic characters and perpetual mystery, a town full of secrets, and a great place to get lost in.