May 22, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Twin Peaks”


TWIN PEAKS:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime – DVR Alert (for some)

Trying to recapture what it was like to watch the original premiere of TWIN PEAKS would be like attempting to duplicate the experience of seeing the first moon landing.  Twin Peaks emerged at a time when “Quality TV” meant LA Law, which won that year’s Emmy for Best Drama (its competition included Quantum Leap), and its utter strangeness was so alien from the world of broadcast television–original cable series barely existed at the time–that it felt as though ABC must have been hijacked.  Things became even more surreal when the series became, for a brief but remarkable moment, a bona fide popular hit.

But that was the genius of Twin Peaks, at least at the outset.  David Lynch was at a point in his career when he was trying to bridge the distance between cinematic art and accessible drama, and with some success:  Dune may have flopped, but The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet found multiplex success.  Working with Mark Frost, a more conventional TV writer with Hill Street Blues and The Equalizer in his credits, Lynch used the grammar of teen soaps and murder mysteries to set “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” as a foundation for his wild idiosyncracies, and although things fell apart in Season 2 (Lynch was much less involved, the 22-episode form was unwieldly, and the ratings cratered), for a while Twin Peaks seemed to be changing the face of television.  Which it did, in a sense, but more subtly over time, by influencing countless shows that came afterward, from Lost to The Sopranos to Louie (which featured David Lynch as a recurring guest star) to current shows like Riverdale, The Leftovers and Fargo.

That was a quarter-century ago, and now, as Laura Palmer promised FBI Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks has returned.  Much has changed, including the entire ecosystem of TV, and we’re no longer stunned when oddball, barely linear shows like The Young Pope or Atlanta hit our TVs.  (The broadcasters, though, are if anything more conservative these days, relegating the new Twin Peaks to Showtime.)  Perhaps more importantly, Lynch himself is in a different place.  He hasn’t made a feature film in more than a decade, and his last remotely mainstream project was Mulholland Drive in 2001.

Based on its opening two hours (written by Lynch and Frost and directed by Lynch, as apparently all 18 hours will be), the new Twin Peaks is aimed more at arthouses–and their deep-dish Twin Peaks fans at that–than multiplexes.  It’s a direct sequel to Season 2 of the ABC series that picks up Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) where we last saw him, imprisoned in the otherworldly Black Lodge while his doppelganger, possessed by the satanic Bob, is out in the world.  The two hours alternate between the Bob version of Cooper’s villainy mostly in South Dakota, where he acts like a character from Lynch’s Wild At Heart, and Regular Cooper’s chats with various surreal characters whose backwards speech is played backwards, so that it ends up as barely comprehensible (and subtitled) English.  They include several dead characters like Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and her father Leland (Ray Wise), as well as a tree with a sort of human face at the top of its branches.  Their main message, among other more enigmatic statements, is that Bad Cooper has to come back to the Black Lodge before Good Cooper can get out, something the former has no intention of doing.  We also spend some time in NY, where a portal apparently exists between the Black Lodge and this dimension, among others, and eventually Real Cooper goes through there, although it’s not clear where he ends up.

Lynch was never exactly a swift storyteller, but the pacing here is sometimes nearly immovable.  In addition, there are almost no characters developed as people, a sharp change from the original.  (The closest exception is Matthew Lillard, as an ordinary South Dakotan agonized to realize that he was apparently possessed by Bob or some other demon to commit a horrific murder.)  This new Twin Peaks isn’t fun, the way the original often was.  That’s not to say that there are no pleasures here.  Despite Lynch’s fascination with the bizarre, he can be very skilled at staging suspense and violence when he’s moved to do so, the latter often laced with sex, and there are set-piece sequences in each of the two hours that make the show abruptly gripping for a while.  There are also many reminders of how beautiful and unique Lynch’s vision is, and for some, the stretches of watching his imagery and experiencing his sound design (the music is, once again, by the great Angelo Badalamenti) will make it all worthwhile.

And perhaps it would be, for 2 hours.  But 18?  At some point, Lynch and Frost are going to have to tell a story and construct some characters, or this Twin Peaks will feel like an empty exercise, no matter how grateful we may be to have it back.  David Lynch is still unlike any other filmmaker who’s tried to touch a wide audience, but his challenge this time will be to demonstrate that the alchemy of Twin Peaks can be repeated.  We have all summer to find out if he can pull it off.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."