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On May 21st, the gum you like is going to come back in style, as Twin Peaks will return, after over a quarter century off the air, with 18 new episodes on Showtime. For fans of the cult classic series, this is what they’ve been waiting for since 1991. And for those of us who discovered the series via Netflix, we’re just excited at the prospect of getting to watch Coop drink more damn fine cups of coffee while the Log Lady talks in riddles.
No matter which way you slice it, Twin Peaks is going to be a big topic of pop culture conversation in the coming weeks, and if you haven’t had a chance to check out David Lynch’s crazy weird series, you might be wondering how you can catch up before The Black Lodge opens for business next weekend. Have no fear, I’ve put together a basic Q&A for the uninitiated, to give you a better understanding of how to dive into the wonderful world of Twin Peaks without needing to spend 30+ hours binging television.
In the simplest terms, it was a drama from Mark Frost and David Lynch that ran for 30 episodes on ABC from 1990-91 and spawned a prequel film called Fire Walk With Me.
Yes. David Lynch made a prequel film to the series after the show was cancelled. It’s generally regarded as pretty bad (although some diehard fans of the show love it). But I’ll get back to it later, because it’s going to be something you’ll want to watch to prepare for the new episodes.
It was, ostensibly, a murder mystery, following the FBI’s quirky but brilliant Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he investigated the mysterious death of high school student Laura Palmer. But it was so much more than that.
The question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” was the tagline for the show’s first season (which consisted of only eight episodes), but it was just the jumping off point for the series to delve into the idiosyncrasies of the Pacific Northwest town in the title and the mysticism that surrounded it. There was criminal intrigue with gangs and drugs, family secrets that needed to be exposed, demonic possession, a one-armed man, and a trippy alternate reality called The Black Lodge, where people spoke backward and Agent Cooper was told that Laura Palmer would see him again in 25 years (hence the reason for the revival…even if it’s actually been 26 years). The weird of the series was what made it great.
Unfortunately, ABC wasn’t nearly as excited about exploring the strange and supernatural as Lynch and Frost, and that’s when things on the show started falling apart and breaking down, leading to an acrimonious divorce between the creators and network, and the decline of the series’ quality.
Yes, the show did get bad. Bad and weird, as opposed to the fun and complex weirdness that permeated the first season under Frost and Lynch. Rather than listening to the Log Lady talk in riddles about what her Log was telling her, or having a giant appear in Agent Cooper’s room to discuss the Laura Palmer case, the later episodes of the series included a woman reverting to her high school years (and possessing shockingly extreme strength) and another character deciding he was actually Robert E. Lee, complete with full Confederate uniform and battle plans. It just didn’t have the same magic. And it didn’t work.
So, for the first season, the show was a pretty solid hit. And Frost and Lynch were heavily involved in all aspects. Then the ratings dropped a bit in season two. No one knows exactly when, but David Lynch eventually removed himself from the production and Mark Frost also became less involved.
ABC also demanded that the Laura Palmer mystery be solved, sooner rather than later, which was something Frost and Lynch never really wanted to do. But ABC controlled the money, so the mystery was solved. And once it was solved, the wheels came off the wagon (and Lynch was gone).
But you should care about this revival because Lynch and Frost wrote and directed all 18 new episodes. The episodes they were clearly involved in during the original run were the best of the series, filled with amazing performances, fun writing, and great directing. The mythology they dreamed up was intricate and brilliant. And the series inspired a whole host of shows you probably watched and enjoyed, including The X-Files, Lost, The Sopranos, and Fargo.
You certainly can, if you want, but seeing as how the series premieres on the 21st, that might not be doable. And, as someone who once binged the entire series over the course of a few weeks, you’ll probably end up with some really weird dreams. Like super weird. Although, that will likely happen no matter what, it’s just the price you pay for visiting Twin Peaks.
But you don’t have to. I recommend that people who just want to understand the main story watch the entire first season (it’s really amazing and only eight episodes), then watch episodes 1-9 of the second season (this will let you know who, or what, killed Laura Palmer), and then watch the series finale (Lynch returned to direct the episode, and while it’s pretty out there, the final scene will likely factor into the new season).
Now, until recently I would also say to skip Fire Walk With Me, but Lynch recently told Variety’s Mo Ryan that the film will factor heavily into the new season, so you’ll probably want to check it out. The film was universally panned when it premiered, so don’t expect perfection. But it will give you some background into who Laura Palmer was before her body washed up on the beach wrapped in plastic. And that is apparently important for the upcoming 18 episodes. I’ll be putting together a refresher on the film early next week, just covering the important points should you not want to spend two hours of your life on it.
Practically every actor in Hollywood, if a list that went around last year is to be believed. One count had the cast hovering around 200 people, which is probably a bit excessive, but no one knows for sure. Lynch and Showtime have locked the show up tighter than Fort Knox, and almost nothing is known about the series, including a definite cast list. But, a number of the original cast will return (including several who passed away after filming their scenes, including Catherine E. Coulson as the Log Lady and Miguel Ferrer as Albert Rosenfield). MacLachlan is back as our hero, Agent Cooper, and fan favorites like Mädchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, and Ray Wise will be joining him in his return trip to Twin Peaks, Washington.
Here’s the rumored list of actors involved, though, if you want to take a moment and stare in amazement at how many names David Lynch can get into a project.
Really, the only advice I have is to embrace the crazy. The show is often surreal and plays with many motifs of small town American life in ways that subvert. But also remember that when Twin Peaks first aired, nothing like it had ever been on television. Now we live in a world where Bryan Fuller gets three seasons on network TV to explore the homoerotic elements of the relationships between Hannibal Lector and Will Graham. That would never have happened if Twin Peaks hadn’t swept through the world of television 20 years earlier.
Oh, and beware of BOB. Trust me.