Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Everyone was right: Twin Peaks IS a weird show!

TP is one of those things that felt familiar to me, even before I saw it.  It became part of the zeitgeist, seeped into the popular culture, and became part of our standard lexicon.  I've seen parodies on The Simpsons, heard others invoke it when discussing more recent works, and so on.  Thanks to the magic of DVD, and a generous brother, I'm finally able to experience it first-hand.

So far, I've just seen the pilot and the first season.  It might be a while until I wrap up the second season, so I wanted to jot down some quick notes from my thinking at this stage.


Let me get the criticism out of the way first.  Exactly two things bother me about the show, and both of them are direct artifacts of its age: the music and the hair.  The music tends to be really synth-heavy.  Worse, it's rather limited and repetitive... there are about three themes which get repeated over and over and over again.  I'm sure this wouldn't be as aggravating back when people were watching one episode each week, but in my compressed viewing schedule, it gets a bit old.  The exception: I absolutely love Agent Cooper's theme, a snappy, slightly jazzy number that perks everything up when he's on the screen.  For some reason it reminds me of Hero's Quest/Quest for Glory I.

As for the hair - again, it's just a matter of how style has changed.  The men aren't so bad, but the women are in the grips of Big Hair.  After a few episodes, I got used to it.

And, that's pretty much the sum of everything I don't love about the show (except for some minor plot-related stuff below.)  On with the good!

As I watched the show, I kept thinking about how so much of what I loved about this show was the same as what people loved about "Lost."  Don't get me wrong, these are two very different shows with very different feels, but in some respects, they are rather similar.

* Movie-level production quality

Both are gorgeously shot and have a wonderful eye for framing scenes.

* Excellent natural and artificial settings

Lost has Hawaii, TP has the Northwest.  TP also has plenty of indoor scenes, which often are lush and highly detailed; Lost also ventures indoors from the second season onward with interesting, detailed locations.

* Sprawling casts with intricate relationships

This is probably the key similarity between the show.  In both cases, you have several people who are the nominal "stars" - Jack and Sawyer in Lost, Cooper and Truman in TP - but behind them are several dozen important supporting characters.  Just watching the opening credits of both shows gives you a feel for the depth of the cast list. 

I can't claim that there are no weak links in either cast, but both tend to be really strong.  They also contain a pleasing mix of personalities, intensities, and orientations; people can probably identify with someone on the show no matter what.

* Mixture of rationality and mysticism

Both shows have spooky events that defy easy explanation.  In Lost, this is the central tension of the show, as people try to figure out whether science or spirituality is behind the unusual events.  In TP, though, characters almost always embrace the mystical.  Instead, you get this interesting blend of the two, united instead of in opposition, as people try, for example, to use technology and science (voice-activated tape recorders, experiments with throwing rocks) in the service of mystical processes (divining the nature of Laura Palmer's death).

* Frustrating refusal to answer big questions

... or at least, so people claim.  For the record, I enjoy not knowing what's going on, and like ambiguities more than cut-and-dry presentations.  Still, both shows are real teases, especially in their first seasons.  I felt like TP was a little worse than Lost in this regard, especially when, for example, Cooper calls up Truman in the middle of the night, triumphantly announces that he knows who killed Laura Palmer, the episode ends... and the next episode starts with him admitting that he forgot who did it.

* Character reversal

This was actually one of my gripes with Lost: EVERY character ended up becoming the opposite of what they initially seemed (Hurley wasn't an easy-going fun-loving guy, he was a millionaire mental patient; Jin wasn't an abusive husband, he was a cuckolded softie; Sawyer wasn't a bad-boy dumb criminal, he was a sensitive bookworm; etc.)  TP's reversals, at least so far, are more limited and soft.  The biggest one by far is Palmer herself; she went from seeming like a pure and innocent victim to apparently being an awful perpetrator or criminal and moral perversion.  I get the feeling that a few other characters may be swapping around as well... Bobby is bad but may be redeemable; the widow Packard has something going on; Audrey flits back and forth between good and bad; and so on.

Okay, I think that wraps up the comparisons.  Into straight-up Twin Peaks-dom:

Like I said, I'm loving the show.  It has a wonderful, Murakami-esque sensibility where the supernatural is matter-of-factly presented as a part of the ordinary world.  There's the wonderful sense of menace and mystery around the edges of everything... the Sheriff's Department, for example, seems secure and inviolate, but when the deputies head into the woods, you feel like they're at risk.  You regularly get this sense of penetration, as when Mrs. Palmer has "visions" of strangers intruding within her very house. 

I also love all of the from-left-field non-sequitors.  Log Lady is awesome.  Both for who she is, and for the way that, within the logic of the show, people accept her.  "Who's the lady with the log?"  "She's a local resident.  We call her the Log Lady." 

The central crime is surprisingly disturbing for a network show.  Even though you don't see much blood, the descriptions of what happened are quite unsettling; today, I think this show would absolutely belong on Showtime or HBO.

Like I said above, the characters are just amazing.  Cooper and Truman are both phenomenal.  Cooper is just so... unique.  His enthusiasm, his embracing of everything, light up the show.  He can dive into the most sordid scene and make you still feel uplifted.  Truman is a calm, steady rock, but a highly charismatic rock.  Truman also has one of the most amazing gazes that I've seen.

In the second tier of actors, there's a lot to admire.  Big Ed seems like one of the nicest people, not just on the show, but on all shows; he's an incredibly decent man.  Which, of course, makes it all the better in the end of the season when he goes undercover to infiltrate a corrupt casino.  The worldly madame asks him in a sultry voice "So, what's your line?"  He answers honestly and then catches himself: "I run a gas station... uhhhhhhh... I'm an oral surgeon." 

I'm also really impressed by the young actors, both for their performances, and for Lynch making them such a big part of the show; it seems unusual to have such a big ensemble cast that spans generations like that (though I suppose Buffy did it to a smaller degree).  I don't know how old the actors really are, but they do seem fairly convincing as teenagers.  Donna is great, and very believable as the bereaved friend.  James is a bit one-dimensional as an actor, but a likeable presence.  Bobby is great to hate, and his flunky even more so.  Audrey... Audrey's probably the best of the bunch, a thoroughly loose cannon with the resources to throw off everyone's plans.

A few semi-random thoughts/predictions at the end of the first episode:

* I suspect that the psychiatrist wasn't the one who dug up James' pendant.  We never specifically saw who did it, and in one episode, one of the deputies saw him walking toward the morgue.  I think he took Laura's pendant, and James' is in the possession of... someone else.

* Cooper's alive.

* Most of the first season has been a wild goose-chase; Jacque and Leo were present on the night of Laura's death, but neither took her to the railroad car.

One plot-related complaint:

It would be interesting to see whether different writers wrote the different scripts; it sometimes feels like the episodes aren't really tracking with one another.  For example, I loved the bit where we learn about the secret society of good people who stand against the evil that surrounds Twin Peaks, but they largely seem to drop that idea in later episodes.  More specifically, if this is such a tight-knit group, then why would Truman be so quick to suspect James of selling cocaine?  More to the point, why would Truman believe "Leo"'s word in the first place?  It would be like, I dunno, Jeffrey Dahmer calling you up and saying that you should check out Michael Jordan.  Anyways, all this may be necessary to move the plot to where they want to go, but it still doesn't really seem to fit with the interior logic of the show.


Still, that's a slight complaint against the impressive accomplishment of this sprawling, spinning, evolving plot.  It looks like the second season is much longer than the first, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.  Unfortunately, my receiver is currently on the fritz and is delaying audio, so it's hard to watch stuff on my TV; I'll need to either fix that (if I can, the receiver is about seven years old), switch to watching on my computer (possible but not nearly as much fun), or wait until I upgrade/replace my A/V setup.  Still, I do have an incentive to make this word soon!

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