Few can deny that we’re living in a Golden Age of television, as the explosion of new outlets and stations has created a need for unique original programming. People complain (rightfully so) about the proliferation of sleazy reality shows, but we’ve also received the likes of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Veep, Downton Abbey, Justified, The Americans, Archer, Boardwalk Empire… the list goes on into the sunset. And none of them – not a single one – would have made it to the screen were it not for Twin Peaks. Changing an entire medium is rare enough, especially if your show barely lasted thirty episodes. But so strange and marvelous was its appearance on ABC in the spring of 1990, that even then we knew nothing would ever be the same. Hit the jump for my full Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray review.
Twenty-five years ago, prime-time television was dominated by safe, dull formula. You had soaps, cop shows, sit-coms and the occasional science fiction series to keep things interesting. That was basically it. Premium cable focused mainly on movies, with basic cable stations either re-running network content, or sticking to their assigned niche. Syndication was starting to make some waves, but basically everyone stuck to the same basic tropes that had kept the medium running for decades.
And then came David Lynch who, along with co-creator Mark Frost, had a notion that seemed to embody every TV genre and none at all. Police procedural, sudsy melodrama, comedy, even horror… it was all there, covered with Lynch’s patented dream logic and wrapped up in the plastic bag of one very, very dead high school girl. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), local homecoming queen and possessor of the god-king of all dark sides, appears on the idyllic lakeshore of Twin Peaks, WA, and turns a veritable hornets’ nest of Weird on its ear. Her murder appears to be the work of a serial killer, prompting the arrival of FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to determine whodunit. Cooper may be the oddest member of the whole cast, with strange ideas on Tibetan mysticism and an almost unholy love of coffee and baked goods. He’s backed by some of the most out-there characters in TV history, from the lady with the log known as the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) to the town psychologist (Russ Tamblyn) who has a predilection for South Seas culture. A staggering bevvy of character actors rounded out the town – many known for previous work, but who had slipped into obscurity in subsequent years. (The Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton plays the owner of the local diner, for instance, while Piper “Carrie’s Mom” Laurie plays the sinister manager of the local mill.)
As with all things Lynch, there’s little rhyme or reason behind these figures, nor can we find much sense in a labyrinthine twists and turns of the plot. And that was kind of the point. Twin Peaks carried a poetry to its kookiness, and like Lynch’s movie work, everything appeared within the framework of a definable universe. It just wasn’t a universe we could understand… which meant that we literally had no idea what was coming next. Frost kept it all moderately grounded, thanks to years of work on Hill Street Blues and a penchant for police procedurals that worked quite well with Lynch’s intensity. No one had seen anything like it, and for the first glorious weeks, we all became witnesses to tsunami-level cultural phenomenon.
It couldn’t last, of course, though no one predicted how quickly and steeply its star would fall. Blame lies on a number of factors, most notably the unduly swift resolution of the central plot thread. Though Twin Peaks wound through dozens of story arcs, the central question of Laura Palmer’s murder remained in the forefront. They solved it in the middle of season two – in a suitably bizarre and jaw-dropping fashion to be sure – and seemed incapable of transitioning to different storylines easily. Ratings started to dip and ABC panicked, bouncing it through the schedule in ways that made Firefly look like The Cosby Show. Behind the scenes, egos and squabbles entered the mix, as actors bickered over screen time and new figures were added seemingly as stunts. Lynch moved on to work on Wild at Heart, and the ABC execs – never the biggest fans of the show to begin with – issued creative fiats that confounded any efforts to attract new viewers. The moribund second season ended on a cliffhanger in an effort to buy the show more life. It didn’t work, leaving hard-core fans in an uproar and the rest of the world shrugging indifferently. Lynch followed up with a theatrical movie, Fire Walk with Me, that seemed to raise more questions than it answered and died a grisly death at the box office. Twin Peaks officially became a flash in the pan, everybody moved on, and within a few years it had all vanished from the pop culture radar.
But at the same time, it didn’t. Emboldened by its initial success, TV executives proved more willing to entertain stranger and more outlandish ideas for TV shows, and as premium cable began to expand into original programming, it demonstrated that anything could conceivably work so long as enough thought went into it. Twin Peaks guided the way, and we now sit amid the countless children of its warped vision. No flash in the pan ever had so much impact.
Which brings us to the Blu-ray set: wrapping the whole mess in a nice neat bow and representing it to us in all its shambling, bizarre glory. Looking back on it after a quarter-century, it remains a singular achievement despite its appalling crash landing. The first few episodes are stronger than later ones, of course – and they did solve the Laura Palmer thing way too soon – but the magic remains, and its hypnotic fascination hasn’t diminished on iota. You could conceivably release it today to big ratings… though of course these days every station has an oddball show or two trying to recapture the same lightning. Even so, it’s a grand trip, especially for us fans burned by its abrupt ending who hadn’t come near it after the initial airing.
The boxed set certainly makes it all inviting, both for old-school fans and new ones interested in seeing what all the fuss was about. The unduly elaborate packaging is still easy to use (as well as adroitly capturing the show’s unique spirit), and the transfer of each episode never skimps on the sharpness and quality. The set also includes a copy of Fire Walk with Me, ensuring that completionists don’t have to go hunting for it. As a movie, it’s a fairly miserable experience – dark and nasty for the sake of being nasty – though it has its adherents and remains resolutely Lynchian throughout. It too benefits from a lovely transfer, though not quite as meticulous as the show itself.
The extra features make for the real selling point, especially for fans of the movie who have looked for some of the tidbit offered her. Specifically, we get over 90 minutes of cut scenes from Fire Walk with Me, showing flashes to the better movie Lynch presumably had in mind. The set doesn’t merge them into the theatrical release, but considering how difficult they’ve been to find, fans won’t complain much.
Want more? The set’s got it, starting with an hour-long roundtable with Lynch, MacLachlan and some of the series regulars. (It’s an expanded version of an earlier 30-minute piece released a few years ago.) We’ve also got two-plus hours of cast and crew interviews; four behind-the-scenes docs running about 100 minutes in totem; a 20-minute feature on a Twin Peaks convention; “The Glastonbury Archives,” which assembles all the bits and pieces from earlier DVD releases; another 90 minutes worth of features on Fire Walk With Me; the European version of the pilot (released as a feature film); original previews and promos; introductions from the Log Lady for each episode; still photos, trailers, outtakes, commercial previews, and an eight-minute tour of the film’s key locations. After all that, you’re gonna need a cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie: the only things this comprehensive set doesn’t provide. We’re not complaining. One of the strangest and most prophetic shows on television gets a set worthy of its brilliance: far less fitful than the show itself and bound to make any Twin Peaks fan turn cartwheels in the street.