This boxset release marks the 20th anniversary of Twin Peaks and, with its Murder She Wrote meets League Of Gentleman style narrative, watching it is a strange experience. It really shows how much TV drama today relies on swooping camera angles, sharp one-liners and expensive hairdressing.
The pace of Twin Peaks may be slooooow in comparison, but the actors actually have to ACT, not give one perfect sassy reaction shot before the camera zooms away like an ADHD fly on the wall (yes, I’m looking at YOU, fellow ’90s series Homicide, for starting this madness).
So much for David Lynch’s beautifully-paced filming style. What about the plot? It’s a small town mystery with added oddness. I remember once staying in a tiny village, watching the news, when a friend came in and asked if anything had happened. “Oh, just a murder,” I replied, and suddenly everyone rushed to the TV and started talking about it, and how they had a passing knowledge of the victim. Well, the same thing happens here. A body is discovered, everyone knows the dead girl – the crime scene cops name her as soon as they turn over the body – but you don’t, so you start asking questions and before you know it you’ve met all the local eccentrics and end up trapped in an otherworldly red room with a backwards-talking dwarf. Well, maybe not that last bit, but this is Twin Peaks.
We’re in David Lynch territory, so there’s a lot going on under the surface, and inevitably the murdered Laura Palmer wasn’t the sweet girl the locals believed they knew. It turns out she had a double life as a junkie prostitute. Enter FBI Agent Cooper (Desperate Housewives‘ Kyle Maclachlan) to investigate. It’s clear from the first episode that he is not destined to be your everyman guide through this strange world. In a nod to the detective show staple ‘let’s chat while walking through a corridor” scene, he asks the local sheriff to talk with him in the hall. But instead of asking about the case, he demands to know: “What kind of trees have you got here?” His eccentricity comes in useful when investigating the case, which involves the paranormal and the downright creepy.
This series was clearly the spooky atmospheric precursor of The X Files and its ilk. In fact, you can catch David Duchovny himself as a cop called Bryson, whose first name is Denise when dressed in women’s clothing, and Dennis when dressed as a man. Shame Mulder didn’t have the same quirk.
If there is a problem, Twin Peaks may be a little guilty of Stringing Things Out. It becomes ABOUT the weirdness, not the story. Please people, when making a series, remember: “Don’t get high on your own supply.” Of course we’re referring to visual loveliness and air of mystery. As much as you are attached to your creation – and the cash – unless it’s soap, your audience needs a reason to watch.
Here, the urgency lessens after the murder is solved in the second season. Unlike the enforced extension of Lost et al, here the TV executives insisted that the mystery should be concluded early to boost falling ratings. Lynch didn’t want it to be solved at all, but perhaps that would have been just as bad. It goes to show that, much as you try to avoid it, you’re gonna jump that big ol’ shark in the end.
Released on DVD on 22nd March 2010 by Universal Playback.