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One Peak, One Valley


Late to the party

Twin Peaks promo image (original series). Sometime earlier this year I read that a new season of the universally-admired, groundbreaking television drama Twin Peaks would air on Showtime.[1] Big news! I well remember the sensation generated by the show during its 1990-92 run. I recall in particular one work colleague of mine’s enthusiasm for the show. Every week she would urge me to watch it. But, having missed the first however many weeks of it by the time I began to feel it might be worth seeing, I never did. The world of home entertainment was a different one then. No DVRs, no “on demand” services, no streaming video.

There was also this: I was the young father of six- and five-year-old daughters, had a full-time job, and was probably exhausted and in bed when it aired.

So you know why it wasn’t until earlier this year that I first watched seasons one and two of the show. Showtime made it available on demand to prime the pump ahead of its new season, and I binge-watched its 30 episodes in May and June. This was quite a commitment for me, as I do not often watch a lot of television.[2] What I saw mostly lived up to the hype.

The original series seems dated now, of course, but it really isn’t difficult to understand why it was such a revelation 27 years ago. I just took a look at Wikipedia’s list of the 30 highest-rated programs of the 1990/91 season and there is nothing like Twin Peaks on it. Not even Twin Peaks is on it. There are some well-regarded shows on the list–Cheers and the now besmirched The Cosby Show among them–but all but one fit neatly into categories familiar to television viewers since, at least, my childhood. The only exception I can see is the excellent and unique The Wonder Years (ranked last, #30, on the list).

Twin Peaks didn’t fit neatly or otherwise into any category familiar to viewers of its day. It was drama, comedy, mystery, and police procedural. It veered quickly into the weirdly supernatural (though this aspect was central to its story, it succeeded despite it, not because of it, for me). It was set in a West Coast bizarro-world Mayberry with a dream-hallucinating FBI agent Dale Cooper as its incorruptible lawman Andy Griffith.

Its genre-bending weirdness was only a part of its unique charm. Its wacky and endearing characters really made it worth watching. Even those of us who didn’t see the series back in its day might have been aware of the Log Lady (I was). But we couldn’t have imagined Deputy Andy, Lucy the receptionist, Dr Jacoby, Sheriff (Harry S) Truman, and the beautiful and strong women of the small town. Too many to name. Just a fun and original group of lovable loonies.

Ultimately the show faltered. Towards the end of its two-year run, its plot line went somehow awry. Aspects of its story I found least compelling dominated. Perhaps its original fans agreed–ratings fell and the series was not renewed for a third season.

Still, a fun and pioneering show, and a part of late twentieth century culture I’m glad to have experienced. Better late than never.

Well, that’s 18 hours of my life I’ll never get back

Twin Peaks promo image (2017 reboot).So I was primed, fairly pumped to experience the reboot in real-time. I wouldn’t be late to the party this time.

I should have stayed in and washed my hair.

By the third of its 18 excruciatingly dull episodes, I was tempted to cut my losses and bail out. But I am some combination of doggedly determined and slow to learn. Surely, I thought, entertainment is just around the corner. There just had to be a payoff. As tedious week followed tedious week, I hung in, trying to persuade myself that every scene of drying paint virtually guaranteed a profoundly satisfying, dramatic and sublime final few episodes.

Soon, I was looking to the final pair of episodes for that payoff. Then, surely, the final episode would be the bomb. The final scene, please?

No, no, and no.

Yesterday I watched the final episode. Endured it, I should say. It consisted largely of Agent Cooper driving the living corpse of Laura Palmer from Odessa, Texas to Twin Peaks, Washington. We were privileged to be along for the silent drive. The car didn’t have a working radio, I’m pretty sure Coop drove the speed limit the whole way, and the scene approximated the actual Texas-to-Washington travel time with remarkable accuracy (it sure seemed to).

The groundbreaking Twin Peaks: The Return somehow managed to pack 20 minutes of action, five minutes of humor, and 90 seconds of drama into its 18 one-hour episodes.[3]

  [slow clap]

I can’t really recommend it.

So that’s it then, the definitive take on Twin Peaks: The Return? No need to look any further into it? Well, according to Metacritic reviews are generally favorable from professional critics–you know, the ones paid by fake news organizations. If you want to credit a bunch of East Coast-educated poseurs who want to be David Lynch, then sure, believe them. If you are convinced I’m too dense to grok the subtle profundities of the Third Revelation of Frost and Lynch–perhaps you aim to create a graduate-level series of courses based on the show–maybe the AV Club’s brief summary of David Auerbach’s “exhaustive interpretation” of the deeper meaning of the show is for you. Knock yourself out.

Notes

  1. So now I fancy myself a television critic. You can tell by the way I throw around words like “groundbreaking” and “universally-admired.” See also The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. [^]
  2. This isn’t as true as it once was. As I enter my seventh year of retirement and find myself more and more limited physically, I am watching more television than ever before. I still don’t watch network television (does anyone these days?), but I do watch some outstanding programs on premium networks and on Netflix. I believe those who say we are living in a golden age of television. Big-screen Hollywood is looking small in comparison.
     
    Many of the best shows do owe something to the original Twin Peaks. One of my favorites is Fargo. It runs on FX, a cable commercial network, and its three seasons have been fantastic. It traces its ancestry directly to the movie from which it gets its name, but I see a lot of Twin Peaks in its DNA. [^]
  3. I really don’t provide any specifics about the 2017 season’s deficiencies. Probably what amounts to “it suuucked!!” doesn’t qualify as a proper critical review. I guess I’m not a fancy television critic afterall. [^]

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