Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fire Walk With Me

I realize I'm a little late to the party for this one, but I recently finished watching the entire Twin Peaks series for the first time. I know! Inexcusable! Where have I been? In my defense, when the show originally aired I was a scant 6 years old, living TV-less and ignorant in the mountains of Northern California. The closest I had were my weekly excursions to the neighbor's house to watch The Simpsons, at my mother's insistence. And all I knew about David Lynch was that I thought Elephant Man was scary and Dune was boring. (My feelings haven't changed drastically in either case.) Yet here was this incredible television phenomenon, exploding right under my one-track pre-pubescent nose. In the following years I heard a lot about it, naturally, though I never went any further than just making a mental note to watch it at some point in the future.

So it pretty much just stagnated on my "to-watch" list, perpetually getting bumped down in favor of something more immediately rewarding. What a fool I was! Oh Past-Keith, you great slippery twat! What the hell were you thinking? Didn't you know that Twin Peaks is amazing?!

Luckily, (this) summer happened. Summer is the perfect time of year for my own personal brand of escapist hedonism. It's a time for media binges of every variety. It's a time to watch an entire television series in one sitting. Curtains drawn. Unwashed fists shoving dry Kix into grinning mouths. Demented, bleary-eyed glee. Let summer never end!

Uh... anyway. The premise, in case you're not familiar, is this: Laura Palmer, typical popular high school girl, is found dead in the sleepy northwestern town of Twin Peaks. The crime must be solved! And that's it. What most shows would base a single episode on, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost construct an entire series around. You had better believe that these guys have wicked sack.

With the murder as its starting point the show expands outward, and soon it's clear that this wholesome little town is festering with various ancient evils, as well as plenty of regular ol' sex and drugs. It brings to mind Blue Velvet for obvious reasons, and not just because of Kyle MacLachlan's presence as Special Agent Dale Cooper. It must be said though: MacLachlan ties everything together brilliantly. When I was watching the first episode I was consumed with doubt, ready to turn it off and dismiss Twin Peaks as "one of those things." Then about 20 minutes in, "Coop" was introduced, and the show transformed into something ten times what it was. It's hard to explain, but Lynch's direction combined with MacLachlan's acting just... well, you've seen Blue Velvet. It's a very, very good thing.

And speaking of Lynch's direction, it's raging at full force here. You get the definite sense you are taking part in a David Lynch product through a good portion of the series. It's actually kind of uncanny--almost immediately, within the first shot, it's 100% clear whether or not Lynch directed the episode you're watching. Long before his credit ever pops up on the screen you can feel him behind the camera. Or not. Unfortunately, once the second season rolled around, it was usually "not." Lynch took off after completing its premiere, and was absent for most of the show's remaining life. And this is where the Twin Peaks universe takes a sharp nose dive. For most of the over-long second season, the show loses any momentum it had built up. The writing becomes ridiculous even by Lynch standards, the acting turns rancid, and the direction eeks by as just short of mediocre.

A lot of this had to do with the fact that the writers were suddenly pressured by the network jerk-offs to solve the murder of Laura Palmer. Idiots aren't fond of open-endedness, as we all know, and the fact that a mystery could begin without being neatly solved 44 minutes later was a terrible strain on their struggling attention spans. So the writers (the poor dogs) solved it. Right in the middle of the second season, they shit all over what made the show so goddam compelling in the first place. Suddenly and without warning, Twin Peaks had no premise, no direction. Each episode was more laughable than the last, and they struggled to find a reason for their core characters to even appear on screen. For the second time in my marathon run, I considered simply turning it off and forgetting the whole damn thing.

Apparently TV viewers of the time felt the same way, because ratings fell sharply and the show was canceled in the middle of the second season.

But wait! Didn't I just say something about the "over-long" second season? Yes, oh yes! Thanks to the overwhelming power of pre-internet nerd-enforced petitions, the show was revived, and David Lynch returned to hoist it out of the sickening rut it had dug for itself. Of course I didn't know any of this while I was watching it, so I was thoroughly confused when the final 6 or so episodes suddenly got good again. But they did! Oh, how they did!

Then it was really canceled. Shortly after, there was one last desperate kick of activity as a feature-length prequel was released (to much hissing and booing), and then the Twin Peaks franchise finally died for good.

I wonder how David Lynch feels about cops...

My main goal here is to stress the following point: if you haven't watched this show before, my god, do yourself a favor and queue that shit up. The influence Twin Peaks had on television, and popular media in general, is un-fucking-believable. It's impossible to imagine something like, say, The X-Files existing without Twin Peaks paving the way.

The Simpsons' (perfectly accurate) take on Twin Peaks

Speaking of which, one of David Duchovny's ealiest roles was on Twin Peaks, as Dennis "Denise" Bryson, the cross-dressing DEA agent. Without this show spotlighting his ability to play a slightly abnormal federal agent, who knows what The X-Files might have turned into. And countless other familiar faces will pop up as well: pre-SNL Molly Shannon, Billy Zane, Heather Graham, David Lynch himself, that one guy from RoboCop, Henry from Eraserhead, David Motherfucking Bowie (!?)... the list continues. Oh yeah, and one of my personal favorites: David Patrick Kelly, a.k.a. that asshole from The Warriors. You know the one--the finger pointer with the annoying voice who really shot Cyrus.

Okay, I'm gonna stop. I don't really want to go into any more detail here anyway, because even the slightest clue could totally ruin the show for one who hasn't seen it. So see it! Then we'll discuss.


whitney said...

Scott bought me Twin Peaks for my birthday this year. It's the gold edition that has all those special features and is so totally awesome.

Doesn't David Duchovny look so hott as a woman? I never would have thought...I mean, he's so tall!

Keith said...

I think we (which is to say scientists) should clone David Duchovny for the sole reason of having one of him dressed like a lady at all times.

Then I guess the two would pretty much have to marry each other... that goes without saying. And then they could do cute things like eat off each others' plates and finish each others' sentences and stuff.

I don't think I can imagine a more perfect world!

elgringo said...

When Whitney and I saw David Duchovny at WonderCon, he was dressed as a man. He still looked cute but even back then, I couldn't help thinking "a miniskirt and shoulder pads (is that how women dress?) would make him look amazing."

He did look like he longed for a sentence finisher, too.

Oh yeah, don't know if you saw, but you won the first ever HSCTC Award. Check out my blog and claim your prize!

Keith said...

Another belated link... apparently today is David Lynch day. Who knew? More Lynch goodness there than I can even deal with (literally... my browser is freezing up), including plenty of Twin Peaks sheit.

MovieMan0283 said...

Well, I was also 6 in 1990 and I also just watched Twin Peaks for the first time this summer. I'm going to do a review of the series later in the week, but I just put up a response to "Fire Walk With Me." I was really impressed but also had some major problems. You can read it here so let me know what you think: