On April 8, 1990, just after 9 p.m. EST, Laura Palmer was found wrapped in plastic. She was dead, but “Twin Peaks” roared to life, a pop cultural phenomenon that burned steadily despite a rapid shift in public opinion, a second-season cancellation and a prequel film, “Fire Walk With Me,” that flummoxed many viewers and was famously booed at Cannes (though it still delights diehard David Lynch fans).
Now, 27 years later, the dark, moody and influential child of Lynch and Mark Frost has returned. No one has any idea what to expect from this new season, which airs at 9 p.m. May 21 on Showtime and runs for a whopping 18 episodes, an anomaly in this era of 10-to-12 episode cable TV. Here’s what we do know: Though plenty of fans will tell you the show fell apart once Laura’s killer was revealed, they can’t wait.
Expecting the unexpected may be the best approach to take with this groundbreaking series.
“David Lynch is not going to accede to conventions,” says Arthur Smith, assistant curator at the Paley Center for Media in New York and co-author of “Twin Peaks FAQ.” “That’s one of the reasons it’s not a binge-able show. It’s not built on cliffhangers and payoffs. Those things are used ironically or deliberately subverted. The pleasure of this show is not the headlong anticipation of a thing happening and then it happening. It’s emerging yourself into a mood. This show does not work like other television shows.”
Naming the TV series not influenced by “Twin Peaks” might be easier than listing those inspired by it. Mulder and Scully would never have investigated “The X-Files” without “Twin Peaks,” obviously. But there’s also “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “Fargo,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Bates Motel,” “Hannibal,” “Veronica Mars,” “Riverdale,” “Fringe,” “Legion,” “The Killing,” “Mad Men,” “The Wire.” We could go on. Do you think Matthew McConaughey’s obsessive Rust Cohle in “True Detective” would exist without “Twin Peaks”? No. As David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” told Time recently: “As a friend of mine said the other day: Anybody making one-hour drama today who says he wasn't influenced by David Lynch is lying.”
The original “Twin Peaks,” which aired on ABC amid a fairly bland television landscape that included “Knots Landing,” “Dallas” and “thirtysomething,” ostensibly answered the question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” (viewers had to wait until more than halfway through season two for the resolution). But what the show truly delivered wasn’t forensics but a challenging stew of horror, surrealism, comedy and soap-opera drama, set to Angelo Badalamenti’s lush and haunting score (he’s back for the new season, too). “Twin Peaks” was revolutionary in style, substance and storytelling, offering a visually stunning dreamscape that defied logic and expectation. FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) didn’t solve Laura’s murder through procedural investigation — his dreams pointed him toward the killer.
That unique twist captivated many tastemakers, critics and budding showrunners, which in turn helped the show stay on the pop culture radar for years, despite its precipitous ratings drop-off (the premiere drew 35 million viewers, but by February of 1991 it was ranked 85th out of 89 shows, according to “Twin Peaks FAQ”).
“A lot of creative people look back and say they’re inspired by it,” says John Thorne, co-creator of the fanzine Wrapped in Plastic and author of “The Essential Wrapped in Plastic,” published last year in anticipation of the new season. “It became a common thing for networks to say, ‘Our new show is “Twin Peaks Meets Such and Such.” But it never really was true. I don’t think any show has ever been able to be ‘Twin Peaks.’ ”
Those 30 episodes, though — how did their influence linger so long when the initial TV audience drifted away? How did they inspire 75 issues of Wrapped in Plastic, which published its last issue in 2005, 14 years after the show had been canceled? (Thorne is reviving the magazine as Blue Rose Magazine for the new series online and in print; the first issue is already out). How did it sustain so much interest in what was essentially a pre-Internet world?
Kareem Tabsch, co-director of O Cinema Wynwood — which is hosting a David Lynch film retrospective May 19-25 in honor of the show’s return — sums it up simply: The show’s artistic dazzle was impossible to forget. “We’d never seen anything like it,” he says.
David Bushman, television curator for the Paley Center for Media and co-author of “Twin Peaks FAQ,” says the show’s ability to break new ground helped keep it alive.
“Any art form that works to advance that art form is important for that reason,” he says. “ ‘Twin Peaks’ broke boundaries, certainly. People saw what the possibilities of the medium were. Up until that time, the beginning of cable making inroads, I would say TV didn’t have a lot of impetus or motivation to become innovative or take chances. ‘Twin Peaks’ came out at the right time and set the stage for what’s come after. It showed how you could subvert convention and be artful.”
It also changed the way TV shows were produced, he says.
“For ‘Buffy’s’ first season, everything was written, shot, film, post produced before the first episode aired,” he says. “The same was true for ‘Twin Peaks.’ The creators were in a complete vacuum. They weren’t getting network notes, no feedback because the networks weren’t hearing from viewers because it hadn’t aired yet. The same was true for ‘Buffy.’ And now that’s the model we think of as the perfect model: ‘The Wire,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s a huge advantage. Now for ‘Twin Peaks,’ the second season wasn’t like that. It was a rushed process, not so enjoyable to make as the first season.”
Much of the original cast — including MacLachlan, whose fate since the jawdropping finale in 1991 is unknown — returns for this new season, joining new characters played by Naomi Watts, Robert Forster and Laura Dern. Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Piper Laurie and Lara Flynn Boyle won’t be back, but Walter Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Coulson (the Log Lady) all filmed scenes before they died, according to Variety. There’s bound to be plenty of pie, piles of donuts and lots of strong black coffee.
Fans will enjoy the familiar faces and jokes, but there’s a deeper level of attachment, says Smith of the Paley Center for Media
“It’s very affecting on a primal personal level,” he says. “Lynch was interested in using art to poke at those deep, scary, private places in people. It’s difficult to engage with on a ‘Let’s have a fun night watching TV!’ way. But it demonstrated that these strange, artistic, abstract ideas and concepts could be appreciated by a mass audience.”
Nathaniel Cadle, who teaches American literature at Florida International University, advises rewatching the show if you can (it’s available on Netflix).
“Rewatching it, you remember how tonally rich it is,” he says. “People tend to remember is the weirdness, but there are moving moments and really funny moments. I’d forgotten how it shifts back and forth.” He advises remaining open-minded about the new season: “Anyone expecting closure is probably not going to be satisfied. Part of me would like to have closure, but a part hopes that won’t happen. That’s part of the appeal, that it’s open-ended and it requires more active involvement from the audience.”
Bushman is confident Lynch and Frost can pull off another season that we’ll be talking about for years.
“The least it’ll be is interesting, because nothing that I’ve ever seen by David Lynch wasn’t at least interesting,” he says.