Thanks to the wonder of Netflix, I've been able to revisit some shows I haven't seen in a long while. One of the most creative, bizarre, captivating, and baffling programs ever made was Twin Peaks, which aired between 1989-1991. It was only on for two seasons, though the first season only lasted for seven episodes, including the two-hour pilot. The series immediately developed a cult following after its premiere, and its cliffhanger episode endings, cinematic visual style, and recurring images of red drapes, owls, fir trees blowing in the wind, coffee, doughnuts, and a freakishly scary grey-haired man named Bob kept viewers riveted. Though the show seemed to center around a murder investigation in the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington, the theme was more about the lives of the residents of Twin Peaks, who all seem to know each other, and yet manage to conceal all manner of secrets. Creators Mark Frost and enigmatic filmmaker David Lynch (who appears in a few episodes as near-deaf FBI supervisor Gordon Cole and who also wrote the lyrics to songs featured in the show) managed to craft a surreal world with quirky yet unforgettable characters. The show's serial nature, darkly comic humor, twisting plot, and occasionally shocking violence paved the way for many shows that followed, including Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The plot concerned the murder of everybody's favorite prom queen/special ed tutor/meals on wheels organizer Laura Palmer (portrayed by Sheryl Lee, stunningly beautiful even when made up to look dead) who is discovered one morning lying by a lake and wrapped in plastic. When another girl, Ronette Pulaski is found emaciated and virtually catatonic across the state line, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to take the case. Cooper is squeaky-clean-cut but also prone to use unorthodox methods, following clues he sees in his dreams. In addition to his love of coffee "black as midnight on a moonless night" and doughnuts and cherry pie, Cooper constantly records tapes of his experiences to his unseen secretary Diane. (While going through a box of Laura's belongings, he begins an entry thusly: "Diane, I'm holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies...") Cooper is teamed with Sheriff Harry S. Truman ("should be easy to remember..."), a no-nonsense lawman who appreciates Cooper's skills even when not understanding his methods. During the investigation, we are introduced to the town's residents and their labyrinthine webs of secrets:
Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), Laura's father, a lawyer whose devastation at his daughter's murder causes him to dance compulsively as he loses his sanity.
Benjamine Horne (Richard Beymer of West Side Story fame), local businessman who owns the hotel, the store, and a brothel across the Canadian border where many bad things happen. Laura worked in his store, and they had more than a professional relationship.
Josie Packard (Joan Chen), a Hong Kong immigrant who owns her late husband's sawmill. She's dating the sheriff and has shady dealings with Ben Horne.
Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), Josie's sister-in-law who hates that Josie owns her brother's sawmill. She, too, has shady dealings (and a romance) with Ben. Her husband Pete (Jack Nance) discovered Laura's body.
Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), a daddy's girl with a devious streak, she's Ben's daughter and went to school with Laura. She has a crush on Cooper and her desire to help him solve the case causes her to put herself in dangerous situations.
Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), quarterback for the football team and Laura's boyfriend. He's secretly seeing waitress Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) whose abusive husband, trucker Leo Johnson (Eric Da Re), has been doing drugs with Laura and is a prime suspect in the murder.
James Hurley (James Marshall), Laura's secret boyfriend, rides a Harley, wears leather, and looks a lot tougher than he acts. He vows, with Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle), Laura's best friend, to solve the murder and soon the two of them realize they're in love. They team up with Laura's cousin Maddy Ferguson (also Sheryl Lee), who looks like Laura but with dark hair and glasses.
Ed Hurley (Everett McGill), James's uncle, runs the gas station and is a member of the Bookhouse Boys, a secret society that acts to stop evil when the law can't. He's had a long affair with Norma (Peggy Lipton), Shelly's employer at the RR Diner, whose husband Hank (Chris Mulkey) is in prison for the "accidental" death of Josie's husband. Ed's wife Nadine (Wendy Robie) wears an eyepatch, is a classic obsessive-compulsive, has super-human strength, and her devotion to Ed keeps him from pursuing his devotion to Norma.
Got all that?
I haven't even gotten to Andy (Harry Goaz), the monumentally stupid-but-lovable sheriff's deputy who may or may not be the father of ditzy receptionist Lucy's (Kimmy Robertson) baby. Or Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn, also of WSS), the town shrink who does magic tricks, wears muli-colored glasses, and was secretly conducting therapy sessions for Laura. Or the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson), an eccentric widow who hears messages from the log that she carries around. There are also appearances by a pre-SNL Molly Shannon as a foster child case worker, a pre-X-Files David Duchovny as Dennis/Denise, a DEA officer with a penchant for cross-dressing, and the gorgeous...well, I'll get to her later. Not to mention Philip Michael Gerrard (Al Strobel), a one-armed man (yes, Gerrard...one-armed man--it's a tribute to The Fugitive) who channels Mike, a demonic entity who tells Cooper about Bob (Frank Silva), the aforementioned really scary guy who keeps appearing to various townspeople in visions. Mike and Bob like to recite poems, too:
"Through the darkness of futures past,
the magician longs to see
one chance out between two worlds,
Fire...walk with me"
Or this one:
"I'll catch you in my death bag
You may think I've gone insane
But I promise
I will kill again"
The series began its downfall when the network pressured Frost and Lynch to actually solve the murder. Once that was done, other plots had to be devised to keep the show going, but none of them held the magnetic appeal of Laura's murder mystery. The second season lost a lot of steam halfway through, and by the time the season ended with one of the most maddening unresolved cliffhangers in television history, Twin Peaks had already been cancelled. A shame, since in addition to the cliffhanger they had recently introduced the character of Annie (Heather Graham), Norma's sister and Cooper's newfound love interest. More Heather Graham in prime-time would have been a good thing.
One thing that stands out about the show is its music. Angelo Badalamenti created a memorable and unique soundscape for Twin Peaks, a mixture of new wave synthesizers and smooth jazz with some rockabilly inflections. The theme song, with its ominous throbbing bass line, won a Grammy, and the soundtrack CD sold surprisingly well. Four songs, with Lynch's lyrics sung by Julee Cruise (who appears in a few episodes singing at the Roadhouse) were sung on the show: "Falling," essentially the theme song with words, "The Nightingale," "Into the Night," a genuinely creepy tune with a good "gotcha" moment thrown in, and "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart," which was used in the second season and was not included on the CD.
Sadly, aside from a few non-filmed projects like Cooper's tapes to Diane and Laura Palmer's Secret Diary (written by Lynch's daughter Jennifer), the only thing left for Peaks fans is the film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which was a critical and commercial failure, partly because it did little to resolve the disappointing ending to season two. Perhaps with the current trend of "rebooting" old shows (because apparently the creative community is afraid to get too creative these days) maybe we'll see a Twin Peaks revival that will provide desperate fans with some closure. Or at least explain what the appearance of that white horse was supposed to mean.