Today marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of Twin Peaks, one of the most influential and memorable programs in the history of television. Over the next two days Biff Bam Pop writers share their memories of the show. Up next is Ian Rogers:
On this day twenty years ago David Lynch and Mark Frost introduced us to a logging town in the Pacific Northwest called Twin Peaks. It was the kind of small town that generally goes unnoticed in America. But Twin Peaks was special, and it was catapulted into television history on the wave of a single question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?”
We had a pool going at my high school on who killed Twin Peaks’ homecoming queen. I had put my money on Benjamin Horne… and lost. I don’t think anyone in the pool actually guessed who the killer was. And if you haven’t seen the show yet, go check it out on DVD, because I’m not going to reveal the answer here.
Twin Peaks was a show of unforgettable visuals: the waterfall next to the Great Northern Hotel; that lonely traffic light at Sparkwood and 21; Agent Cooper hanging upside down in his boxer shorts. And who could forget that powerful second season premiere in which we actually see the brutal killing of Laura Palmer. I’m still surprised that one made it past the censors.
And let’s not forget the sounds: wind blowing in the trees; fifties music playing on the Double R Diner’s jukebox; Gordon Cole’s constant yelling (“Coop, today you remind me of a small Mexican Chiwowow!”); and, it goes without saying, Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score.
Like any show, Twin Peaks was defined by its characters. A quirky ensemble cast that included Sheriff Harry S. Truman, Deputy Hawk, Deputy Andy, Lucy, Big Ed Hurley and his wife Nadine, Donna and James, Maddy Ferguson (Laura Palmer’s cousin, played by the same actress), Audrey Horne, and Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself). And what about the other, even weirder characters, like the Log Lady, the One-Armed Man, The Man From Another Place (aka, the dancing, backwards-talking dwarf from Cooper’s dream), the Giant who haunted the Great Northern, and, of course, BOB.
The standout performance of the series belongs to Kyle MacLachlan, whose portrayal of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper is legendary. Who can forget Cooper’s cowlick, his black suits, his boyish enthusiasm for Douglas Firs, cherry pie, and that “damn fine” coffee. Cooper was like a boy scout exploring the underworld, using a combination of Tibetan philosophy and deductive reasoning to uncover Laura Palmer’s killer. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cooper’s unseen sidekick, his trusty pocket recorder, into which he recited all of his quirky observations (“Diane, I hold in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies…”)
Twin Peaks had a powerful effect on me when it first aired, and it still does today. Last year my wife and I rewatched the entire series on DVD while we were vacationing at a cabin in the woods. This was probably not our brightest idea. Every night, after I turned out the lights, I kept expecting to see BOB’s face leering in through the window.
My own work as a writer has been heavily influenced by Twin Peaks, both in terms of its quirky characters and its mythology of strange and malevolent forces residing in the woods. Few shows balanced horror and humour with as much skill as Twin Peaks. The show embraced both these qualities. Take, for example, the opening scene of the pilot episode in which Pete Martell (played by Jack Nance, a David Lynch regular since “Eraserhead”) discovers the body of Laura Palmer on the shore near his house. “She’s dead,” he tells the police. “Wrapped in plastic.” The phrase would become synonymous with the show (it would also become the title of the Twin Peaks fanzine). A few episodes later the same character ends up coining another phrase after a disastrous incident in which he serves coffee to Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman. “Don’t drink that coffee!” he warns them. “There was a fish… in the percolator!” Only on a show as bizarre as Twin Peaks could a character who coined one of the most ominous catchphrases in TV history also coin one of the funniest.
Unfortunately the show got too weird for its own good. David Lynch may be a master at creating mysteries both beautiful and terrifying, but he has never gone in for the kind of linear storytelling that is required of network television. Throw in a few subplots that people didn’t care about (James Hurley anyone? Or how about Little Nicky?) and the show’s days were numbered. Leaving a bunch of unanswered questions in its wake, and a theatrical movie that looked backward to the days before Laura’s murder instead of forward to tie up loose plot threads, and the fans were left feeling angry and unsatisfied. Opportunities to resolve the show’s lingering storylines via another movie or a graphic novel have come to nothing, and it seems unlikely that we’ll ever find out what happened to the people in that poor, doomed town.
It’s been twenty years since Twin Peaks first aired. I can still remember seeing that opening sequence for the first time. Those great big trees. The lumber mill. I miss Twin Peaks. The show and the town. It entertained me as a viewer and taught me as a writer. It continues to inspire me today. Every few years I find myself going back and revisiting that creepy little town. That place where you don’t want to go walking in the woods after night, where everyone has a secret, where the owls are not what they seem.