That Gum You Like is going to Come Back in Style
Twin Peaks changed my life. It changed many lives. I’d argue that it’s changed all of our lives, even if you aren’t a fan, even if you haven’t seen it, even if you’re born today. Twin Peaks changed the way we tell a story on television. All of the shows today – from the mindless procedurals like NCIS to the multi-layered character studies like Breaking Bad are all children in the shadow of Twin Peaks.
Those critical of the show condemn it as “weird,” or, at best, quirky. David Lynch’s masturbatory fantasy. Unapproachable, strange, introverted, and bizarre. Full of dancing dwarves and the ghost of Laura Palmer talking backwards.
But…let’s be honest. I’ve seen dream sequences in Chicago Fire that make Twin Peaks at its absolute maddest seem sober, calm, and restrained. In almost every show in the last 25 years – and I mean from House to the Battlestar Galactica reboot to Frasier – we’ve had a dream sequence (or several) that would make the Black Lodge blush. Ghost Laura Palmer ain’t got nothing on Angel Starbuck when it comes to what the fuckery.
But it all starts With Twin Peaks.
Oh, yes, there are many American shows before Twin Peaks that tried for the story arc with a character heavy focus. Magnum PI, as one example, had a fascinating through-line that you can see glimmering just below the surface, just slightly out of reach. But no one really wedded primetime drama and soap opera until David Lynch and Mark Frost came along and decided to give us an intricately linked 30 hour adventure that takes place over the course of about two weeks.
By the way, I should say right now that I think the true genius behind Twin Peaks is Mark Frost and not Lynch. When the rumor that the reboot had lost Lynch but not Frost, I breathed a sigh of relief. Lynch can’t keep a thread going…and I think he got in Frost’s way when it came to telling the story of Twin Peaks.
But…that might be for another article. Or this one. I don’t know. I’m going to take a break and drink lots of vodka now, so we shall see…
I fear the reboot because I know what’s going to happen. Most folks – and probably silly David Lynch himself – have an image of the show that’s fed only by nostalgia and parody. Disturbingly, most of the people I know who love and admire Twin Peaks haven’t watched the second season, which is sort of like only watching the flashback scenes in Terminator and never knowing that Reese went back in time to save Sarah Connor. Season two is almost universally condemned. And, my god, it sure does lose its way. Exploring the tortured relationship between James and his mother was a hideous mistake. The whole sub-plot with the fucking creeper Harold Smith was shamelessly designed to sell millions worth of tie-in merchandise and not advance the story in any sort of constructive way. Nadine waking up insane and thinking she’s 15 years old was initially funny, but, like Harold Smith, they simply dragged it on way past its expiration date.
Season two’s greatest mistake was trying to get into the normal lives of the citizens of Twin Peaks – Norma’s worried about a food critic coming to her diner, Shelly and Bobby struggle with insurance agents, we spend way too much time worried about who the father of Lucy’s baby is. Yet all of this is happening against the same tense and exciting backdrop of season one. Who shot agent Cooper? Who killed Laura Palmer? The spirits of the Lodges are still guiding Cooper, and everything’s coming together. The Log Lady warns of the spirits in the woods, and BOB is stalking Maddy. Major Briggs has his greatest moment revealing what the Air Force has been tracking in regards to the ancient Indian Lodges of power… Season two gave us everything we wanted, and every shocking conclusion we hoped for, but all the fluff made it feel like we were constantly standing on our tiptoes to look over the shoulder of a yammering James Hurley into the much more exciting scene playing out in the back garden.
But it’s a mistake to dismiss season two, and an even greater mistake to get lost in the nostalgia of season one. I don’t see the seasons anymore, in fact. This show is meant to be watched as a 30 hour movie and, all in all, it works. When you watch both seasons back to back, you see the thread. You see how it all comes together – even the bad stuff. We just weren’t quite ready for it, and Frost wasn’t ready to tell the larger, 22-episode story of season two. The show would have thrived if it did the English thing and had these very short little seasons. Twin Peaks at six episodes a pop. Can you imagine? It would have gone on for years.
Lynch, meanwhile, abandoned the show entirely in the second season. Oh, sure, he directed the opening episodes, and the episode where we learn who Laura’s killer is, and the finale. He’ll show up for the party, but he won’t fucking stay and help clean up.
Either way, back to what I said above, what one notices as they watch the show today is that the weirdness and surreal storytelling that is, supposedly, the show’s hallmark, is actually commonplace nowadays. Everybody’s done it. Over and over again. It’s been so overdone, and so meticulously explored in modern storytelling, that rebooting the series really scares me.
So here’s what should happen…
The factor that might save the show – besides being on Showtime so they can curse and show us some T&A – is the 25 years later aspect. There’s an interesting little Hollywood thing that put Twin Peaks on the map. It wasn’t the mystery, it wasn’t the weirdness, it wasn’t the storytelling – it was the splashy, broad appeal to multiple generations. The story circles around a group of 40- and 50-somethings, all of whom were noted character actors like Joan Chen, Piper Laurie, and Russ Tamblyn. The story also circles around a bunch of 20-something up and coming stars. So your target audience is, you know, the 15-75 demographic.
Now, with the reboot, those up and coming stars are the older generation. I can see it now. Will Audrey be in charge of the Horne empire? Does Shelley now own the diner with Bobby filling Hank’s abusive shoes? Is James the new Big Ed? Throw in a new batch of up and comers and you have the same formula, all over again. That’s starting out on the right foot, but the show must also let go of the nostalgic past.
I see Lynch trying to recapture the oddness of the original, with dwarves and giants and CGI owls. But that’s not the story we want or expect. We left off with a shocking finale, and the reboot is playing up to a prediction made by Laura’s ghost in season one. This is not a time to revisit the old stories, or explain them. This is a new adventure, carrying on from the old. In fact, if Lynch has any balls, the potential here is for the new show to actively shatter our nostalgia. That shocking season two finale changed all the roles, and we know that there’s no fix for what happened. The Showtime series, if it holds true to the initial storytelling, will be more of a bloodbath where we watch everything beloved about Twin Peaks die. The finale was a bloodbath, after all.
But we won’t get that, will we? We’ll get something horrible. I know this because I watched Fire, Walk With Me, which, apparently, was made by an alternate dimension David Lynch who, also, had never seen any of season 2.
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