As a millennial TV critic, I was about four years old when “Twin Peaks” first exploded onto the scene during its original ABC run, and needless to say I wasn’t much following it at the time, instead engrossed in a different bizarre world called “Sesame Street.” Still, I’ve heard more times than I can count of how influential the series was and different TV critics have credited it with starting “the antihero drama wave,” the serialized mystery format, bizarre genre-bending series, and perhaps even cable TV dramas altogether since “Peaks” two-season cancellation exposed the limits of broadcast series.
Even the show’s own marketing played up its influence, declining to show footage of the new season—perhaps for a good reason that we’ll get into below—but mentioning that David Lynch’s bizarre world predated “Mad Men,” “Lost,” “Breaking Bad,” etc. and perhaps subtly taking credit for those longer running series, having gotten the public used to more challenging, cinematic TV fare. As the saying goes “Pioneers get slaughtered, settlers prosper.”
Still, having recognized the original’s influence, I’m unpleased to report that the first four episodes made no real sense to me at all, and I seriously doubt the ABC version was this inaccessible. It almost feels like Lynch has watched the most abstract episodes of, say, “The Leftovers” and said “You think you’re strange huh?! I’ll show you strange! Mwahahahaha!”
In most scenes, “Peaks” feels like it’s barely trying—some modern day scenes in the third episode have a hideous watched-out flourescent look like when 70’s porn first switched to 80’s videotape and the dialogue ranges from obtuse (a giant talking brain held up by sticks speaking in riddles) to stilted (most scenes with human actors) to goofy irony (like when Michael Cera shows up as a poetic biker). Of course, all of this “barely trying” may actually be something close to flop sweat for the increasingly indecipherable Lynch, who hasn’t had a creative film success since 2001’s “Muholland Drive” and has only made 2006’s “Inland Empire” since, and that may be why the first episodes of “Peaks” feel oddly undercooked but overstuffed. Right now, it’s more a messy pile of scenes like a couple getting murdered by a ghost in a glass box, Kyle MacLachlan in a wild triple role either talking to a brain creature or killing people or being cosmically dissolved after throwing up, the murder of a librarian, guest bands making music during the closing credits, and then even more misplaced slapstick scenes involving David Lynch himself as a near-deaf FBI agent.
Episode One…Synopsis: Uhhhh…ummmm…without so much as a “previously on” we jump right into where I’m presuming the original series left off as Kyle MacLachlan’s FBI agent Dale Cooper is trapped in some mildly campy “Twilight Zone” called “The Black Lodge.” Other scenes include two very old brothers from the original series that either grow pot or oogle Ashley Judd’s secretary (so far we have seen neither of them again), and then a man paid to watch a glass box for specter activity. When he brings a girl inside the room with him, and then makes out with her, something appears and murders them both. Grade: Whew…uhhhh…Is a question mark an appropriate grade “?”
Episode Two…Synopsis: Bubbety-bubbety-bubbety…As best I can remember (because the episodes sort-of blur together) this is about Matthew Lilliard’s small-town principal having his fingerprints all over the murder scene of a librarian he claims he barely knows and definitely didn’t murder. This murder so far has little connection to the main “plot” and seems to be an excuse for Lynch to showcase a mutiliated corpse. Also, Kyle MacLachlan’s other character is out there with long hair murdering people that get in his way as he searches for something that fans of the original series may understand but I definitely don’t. Grade: HAHA
Episode Three…Synopsis: This episode has fewer plot strands than the first two but that’s not necessarily a good thing since a big chunk of it is an absolutely grotesque sequence involving a third MacLachlan character that vomits out his organs and gets sucked into “The Black Lodge” where he’s turned into a small golden ball. Then the character I think is Dale Cooper takes his place and is assisted by a stereotypical uncaring black prostitute (once again, sex with a black woman foreshadows an untimely death for a white man) to an Indian casino where he begins hitting jackpots. Grade: To me, this was the least intriguing of the first four episodes, whatever that’s worth to you.
Episode Four…Synopsis: After Kyle MacLachlan’s possible Dale Cooper gets mistaken for the man he replaced in episode three by multiple idiots (one of whom played by Ethan Suplee), he wins a few dozen jackpots, is paid with a cartoonishly huge bag of cash—we learn in episode 3 that someone is trying to kill the man he replaced—and then gets dropped off at a house where a nearly braindead Naomi Watts doesn’t seem to think something is up with her “husband” who can barely speak, has black hair, a huge bag of cash, and has seemingly dropped 50 pounds in three days. Apparently, the money her “husband” won will be used to pay off some huge debt, presumably to the people trying to kill him. The episode’s biggest question mark is a scene of Robert Forrester’s aging sheriff talking to Michael Cera’s 50’s era Fonzie-biker, waxing poetic about “the open road.” Grade: Arguably the most accessible episode of the bunch, but still…Yikes.
Right now, the biggest “Twin Peaks” mystery seems to be if I’ll keep watching it or not. And I really, truly don’t know…