This week saw the culmination of 20 years of anticipation, as David Lynch and Mark Frost, creators of the cult television programme Twin Peaks, announced its return for a limited series in 2016. Originally running from 1990 to 1991, the show has recently ridden a resurgent wave of popularity, buoyed by its availability on American Netflix, coinciding with the onset of 90s nostalgia. Suddenly, the mysteries of Laura Palmer, the young woman whose body washes ashore downstream of her town, the titular American idyll, were back in the zeitgeist. But in our modern age of instant gratification, are audiences ready to return to the enigmatic town of Twin Peaks, whose woods hold more mysteries than they do answers?
Whilst Laura Palmer’s mysterious death was the hook that pulled in its initial audience, it was never the show’s raison d’être. Twin Peaks toyed with its audience, alternately engaging and unnerving them. It was part soap, part noir, part horror movie, and wholly fascinating. Audiences were introduced to FBI Special Agent Cooper, who arrived in Twin Peaks to investigate Palmer’s death.
As he crossed paths with the town’s inhabitants, from high school femme fatale Audrey Horne, to the disturbed Log Lady, a soap opera cast emerged from the mystery, albeit one filtered through its creators’ twisted lens. The beguiling mix of avant-garde imagery, challenging ideas and soapy theatrics, found in the show’s cliffhangers and revolving door cast of long lost relatives, proved irresistible. And so the central mystery receded into the background, just another reminder of the darkness lurking around the town’s edges.
The show was a massive hit. Unlike anything previously attempted on television, it took the vision of a great American auteur from the art houses, and placed it in America’s living rooms. It was like nothing the masses had seen before. Dark, twisted, and pulpy, the show, like all of Lynch’s strongest work, delved into the psychosexual rot beneath the facade of American domesticity. The nation was hooked. In a time before the cable channel explosion of recent years, the show dominated conversation, regularly pulling in over 20 million viewers. Its young cast found themselves on the cover of Rolling Stone, on talk shows and red carpets. It was a phenomenon – and yet it fizzled in the blink of an eye.
The show’s grand ambition was both its greatest strength and its fatal flaw. From Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive, Lynch’s work is marked by a fascination with mysteries, rather than their solutions. Laura Palmer’s murder was never meant to be solved. But the show’s bosses felt this inappropriate for the long-form medium of television, where viewers’ interest must be retained for weeks on end.
They forced Lynch and Frost to solve the case midway though the second season, and the show never recovered. The resolution came too quickly, too clumsily, and the show floundered without a backbone. Ratings slid, and the show was cancelled after only two years. That Lynch would follow up the show with the misguided big screen adaptation Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, both a prequel and sequel to the show, further tarnished Twin Peaks’ once-sterling reputation. And so a cultural behemoth limped its way out of the spotlight.
But now the show is preparing to return, yet questions still remain about where it will fit in a television landscape so vastly different from the show’s heyday, when audiences had access to only a small handful of channels. Will Twin Peaks finally get the elusive Lynch back behind a camera? Will new fans lose interest waiting between episodes, when they’re so used to watching them all in one go? Can Twin Peaks stand out against the strength of today’s programming, even whilst these new shows are steeped in its DNA? That the series is planned to be a one-off event suggests a definitive end, a solution to a mystery. Isn’t that what went wrong the first time around?
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