Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Meanwhile on Twin Peaks

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Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks

I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that no other piece of pop culture news could have caused me as much happiness as the announcement of a continuation of Twin Peaks. What’s more, the shape it seems to be taking—a self-contained run of nine episodes on Showtime, with each installment directed by David Lynch—feels like the perfect form the show should have assumed all along, having suffered so much from narrative exhaustion and creative distraction near the end of its run. To say I’m excited is the understatement of the year, but I’m also doing my best to calibrate my expectations. Twin Peaks, at least for me, was always more about a mood and an idea than the experience of watching the show from week to week: after the passage of so many years, I think of it less as a series of episodes than a collection of scenes and images, all scored to the music of Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise. It’s easy to forget how often it could feel routine or strained. But even Fire Walk With Me provided me with moments that have become a permanent part of my inner life, and if the new series can achieve even a fraction of this, I can only be grateful.

What’s less certain is where Twin Peaks fits into the contemporary television landscape that it shaped so profoundly. In a way, the show is still ahead of its time, and nothing on network television since has looked or felt much like it. Cable, though, is a different story, and shows like Mad Men have quietly internalized and refined many of its lessons, even if few seem as willing to take them so far, or able to grasp what made the original series so special. Twin Peaks was always easy to satirize: shows from The Simpsons to Psych to Scooby-Doo have all taken a shot at parody or homage, and the series itself seemed to awkwardly plagiarize its own history in its latter half. (It has more than a little in common with the fourth season of Community, a similarly well-intentioned effort that knew the words but not the music.) With both Lynch and Mark Frost returning, I’m hopeful that we’ll see less fan service and more of an intense effort to imagine what these stories would look like today. As Frost said to the New York Times: “There was always a sense that we were slightly handcuffed by the network restrictions of the time and place. Obviously, all that will be gone. We’re really free to do and go wherever we see fit.”

Twin Peaks

Of course, freedom carries risks of its own. I’ve noted before that Blue Velvet—my favorite American movie of all time—is in many ways Lynch’s most conventional film: strip away the surrealist trappings, and you’re left with a perfectly effective thriller, with extended sequences of suspense as good as anything since Hitchcock. It’s also clear that its focus and discipline were a product of severe constraints, particularly in its contractually mandated runtime of two hours. Lynch hit the mark exactly, with an enormous assist from editor Duwayne Dunham, and there’s no question that the movie benefited from its restrictions: the recently released deleted scenes are extraordinary, but I wouldn’t want to see any of them restored. Twin Peaks was equally indebted to the limitations imposed by network television. Its procedural and whodunit elements may look increasingly perfunctory as time goes on, but they kept viewers watching, and the limits on sex and violence allowed the show’s darker elements to exist within a quirky but harmonious whole. (You only need to watch the second half of Fire Walk With Me to see how these elements play, or don’t, when the balance is disrupted.)

It’s obviously impossible to predict what a duo like Lynch and Frost will do next, or how they’ll approach the remarkable opportunity that Showtime has presented. In my dreams, though, what I’d really like to see is a season that utilizes its newfound freedom while honoring the tone that its earlier incarnation established—which was largely the product of the handcuffs that Frost seems happy to lose. What made Twin Peaks special was that it was about a place that had something in common with network television itself, a town of superficial normality and charm that concealed monstrous depths. The Lumberton of Blue Velvet isn’t far removed from The Donna Reed Show, and the Twin Peaks that existed for two short seasons had those contrasts built into its own fabric, in a time slot that forced it into a kind of continuity with the history of television before and since. Maintaining that sort of mood on a cable channel where all constraints are voluntary will require a discipline that Lynch, in particular, hasn’t always shown, however wonderful the results can be. The return of Twin Peaks is the kind of miracle, on the level of a Beatles reunion, that real life rarely affords. But if there’s one thing Lynch has taught us, it’s that the result will always be different from what we expect.

Written by nevalalee

October 7, 2014 at 10:06 am

2 Responses

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  1. Sorry, but I really must quote you on this: “Twin Peaks, at least for me, was always more about a mood and an idea than the experience of watching the show from week to week: after the passage of so many years, I think of it less as a series of episodes than a collection of scenes and images, all scored to the music of Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise.”
    So very true. I feel exactly the same way. Moods, scenes, images, AND places too. Atmospheres. Thank you so much for the great news I wasn’t even aware of.

  2. Glad I could be the bearer of good news!


    October 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm

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