In early 1990, the ABC network premiered a serial drama that would become one of the most anticipated television events of modern times. Twin Peaks, produced by David Lynch (a director famous for his liberal use of surrealism) and Mark Frost, was the first of its kind: a surrealistic soap opera with loaded with quirky characters and otherworldly beings.
The show was truly an experiment in how far primetime T.V. could stray from the staid and normal and one must give credit to network executives for ever allowing it to air. Instead of standard linear plot lines, such as those seen in nighttime dramas such as Dallas or Dynasty, Twin Peaks weaved dreams, visions, supernatural horror and campy humor to create a show that was as deep and philosophical as it was offbeat and light-hearted.
Times being what they were, this groundbreaking piece of television history premiered near the top of the Nielsen ratings charts and was nominated for numerous Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The central mystery of the program, 'who killed Laura Palmer' (the local homecoming queen, whose body is discovered in the first five minutes of the pilot), became the topic of office water cooler conversations around the country. Twin Peaks seemed to be an experiment in television that had succeeded and appeared destined for the greatness of a long run of several years.
Alas, it was not to be. The shows’ ratings’ began to decline early in its second season as the national audience got irked by the lack of resolution of the Laura Palmer murder mystery. The network pressured the producer’s to reveal the killer prematurely, which in turn caused the show to lose its natural rhythm and sent it into a creative tailspin. By the time the writing team got the storylines back on track, it was too late. Twin Peaks' ratings had plummeted so far off the Nielsen charts that the final two episodes had to be packaged together as ABC's Monday Movie of the Week. Peaks left television forever in summer 1991 just one year and a half after it had premiered.
Looking back, it appears somewhat of an enigma why Twin Peaks was not more popular than it turned out to be. Though interwoven with many subplots, the basic storyline is simple: Laura Palmer is murdered in a small Washington town. FBI Agent Dale Cooper (played beautifully by Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate the murder. As Agent Cooper searches for the killer, he uncovers a town with many deep, dark secrets and an evil that lurks deep in the woods. This will set up a final confrontation between Agent Cooper and the evil in the woods. And lest affairs start to get too intense, the Cooper and the show’s other main characters will bring a smile to the audience’s face by making coffee and cherry pie jokes.
As quick and hard was its fall from popular grace, Twin Peaks is still considered one of the most bold and successful experiments in the annals of television. It is credited with paving the way for such popular series as the X Files and Lost and itself has maintained a cult following that lasts to this day: Several web sites dedicated to the show give Peaks fans give a forum for debating on the meaning of various mystical events that occurred on the show, and on the prequel movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Every few years, Twin Peaks conventions pop up, with devoted fans dressing as characters from their long ago cancelled show.
The show was not a perfect production by any means- it reached a low point when one of its main characters’ soul was banished to the knob of a hotel’s dresser drawer- but it was much more creative than just about anything seen on T.V. today. Peaks could be bone-chillingly creepy one moment, and back-slappingly hilarious or broodingly philosophical the next. It was sensual, yet deep and meaningful; and when it was deep and meaningful, it never took itself too seriously. In short, it did what most television programs could never hope to achieve; make the viewer think and feel instead of just passively being entertained.
Thus, it is no surprise that this author was delighted to learn recently that a new Twin Peaks - the Definitive Gold Box Edition has just been released by CBS Home Video, including the pilot and all 29 episodes. Now, fans can make one purchase and relive the entire Peaks experience that premiered 17 long years ago (previously the pilot and seasons 1 and 2 all had to be purchased separately.) It is just too great a temptation to overcome, given the poor quality of much of what can be seen on television nowadays, my 200 cable channels not withstanding.
And with a Hollywood writer’s strike in full bloom, a cup of coffee, a slice of cherry pie and my Twin Peaks DVDs should come in handy this winter.