Few shows cast a wider shadow across the cult canon than David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. On shows like Doctor Who and The Killing and movies like Insidious and The Conjuring, Twin Peaks remains influential decades after its cancellation. Strangely though, those who accept Laura Palmer’s invitation to revisit the show 25 years later will find that it’s not quite the masterpiece of horror television that they remember. Even though we’ve barely finished picking its carcass, Twin Peaks is already ready for a reboot.
Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners. Care for a cup of coffee?
Twin Peaks is a murder mystery cut with several soap opera style B-stories. FBI Agent Dale Cooper arrives in town to investigate the killing of Laura Palmer, a high school homecoming queen and closet head case. He falls instantly in love with the town and begins untangling the snarls of local politics and rivalries, attempting to find the killer and return Twin Peaks to equilibrium.
One thing the show executes perfectly is horror-in fact the scenes in the Black Lodge, the hellish netherworld that Twin Peaks’ rogues gallery, including KillerBob and The Man From Another Place, call home, are some of the only bits that still hold up perfectly. These sequences were years ahead of their time in 1991 and horror movies have been ripping them off ever since. (See: “The Further” in Insidious.)
The biggest problem Twin Peaks has is its handling of the soap opera elements, the fat. This is something that Game of Thrones, a show that almost certainly cribs notes from the Twin Peaks method, does far better. Supernatural elements are intricately worked into the history and mythology of Westeros, so even the dry, Tyrells versus Martells courtly intrigue bits feel like they at least exist on the same planet as the dragons and ice zombies. On Twin Peaks, the Hornes versus (other) Martells stories feel separated from Agent Cooper’s quest for the Black Lodge by a giant, magical ice-wall. It’s difficult to care whether or not a country club will be built in Ghostwood Gorest or who turns out to be the father of the receptionist’s baby when there are interdimensional portals swallowing young girls like Laura into red-velvet hellscapes.
Another thing that doesn’t work is the “comedy.” Exhibit A:
Did you catch the joke? If so, thanks for reading Gamevolution David Lynch! We’re so glad to have a prestigious director such as yourself perusing our humble little site. Seriously though, you may want to stick to horror and surrealism. Your sense of what’s funny is a little… Well, it’s bizzarre.
Oh man, all this talk of donuts really put me in the mood for some more coffee…
Ah, much better.
So Twin Peaks has issues that make the old series half-unwatchable. But it also has redeeming qualities, like, as mentioned, the horror elements. The Black Lodge and KillerBob scenes work in part because this is where Lynch is at home, in the darkness, exploiting our Lovecraftian Fear of the Unknown. The other secret ingredient is Agent Cooper, played by Kyle Machlachlan as a charismatic, principled and oftentimes playful sword in the darkness. The Agent Cooper scenes work so well that it almost causes one whiplash after so much awkward, wooden acting from the supporting cast. Much like David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, Coop is a guide that we can actually feel safe with while exploring the twisted world of Twin Peaks and who we feel legitimately afraid for in times of peril. Even when one of the B-stories takes over and there’s not much going on, it’s always a treat to park it at the Double R Diner with Cooper and enjoy a slice of cherry pie.
Not everything needs to be remade. In some shows and movies, budgetary restraints and practical effects actually give the finished product character. (Compare the original Star Wars trilogy or rubber-suit Godzilla movies that hold up to this day against their blander, VFX-heavy imitators.) But what held Twin Peaks back wasn’t the budget or the technology. It was a series of serious issues with the direction and storytelling. There is still plenty of raw material from which one could craft a great show.
To put it another way, Sam Raimi perfected the Spider Man movie in 2004. Ten years later, we’re remaking that instead of properties like this one that are bursting great ideas and unrealized potential. But, as we all know success begets success, and people would rather see another incarnation of a cape and cowl that has worked before than the rehabilitation of a cult curiosity. The tragic misfires who really need reboots lose their footing while we sit through yet another incarnation of the Ninja Turtles.
Still, those looking for a Twin Peaks-esque rush have their options. Welcome to Night Vale, a horror-comedy podcast that takes the form of a local radio show, tells the story of a little town in the southwest that would be idyllic if it weren’t simultaneously at the mercies of a secret police force, several global, illuminati-style secret societies and a plethora of ancient curses. Night Vale extrapolates comedy from it’s eerie atmosphere like Twin Peaks never quite could, and with its ambient soundtrack it makes for surprisingly relaxing listening.
Other than The Killing, HBO’s True Detective might be the most “on-the-nose” Twin Peaks acolyte to make it to television, and although it’s not blazing a trail the way it’s predecessor did, it’s better in almost every way imaginable. Drawing from H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers, True Detective tells a murky, ugly detective story with nightmarish terrors skirting the edges of the action and procedural drama. All that’s missing from the Twin Peaks model here is a charismatic Agent Cooper type, since both Matthew Mcconaughey’s Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart are both, by design, largely charmless.
True Detective’s attitude towards women also seems a bit more well rounded where Twin Peaks comes off as dated. This wasn’t really a strike against Twin Peaks at the time since it was made in the golden age of slasher horror, when the “you have sex and you die” rule was law, not a formula to be tinkered with. People still wanted to see promiscuity punished, especially in women. Nowadays Laura Palmer’s primary vice being horniness comes off as a little out of place to put it lightly.
Finally, there’s Enter the Lodge.. This fan project hypothesizes what a third season of Twin Peaks might have looked like-if it were posted entirely on Twitter.
There are seeds of greatness in Twin Peaks, seeds that have grown mostly in other shows and projects, but that also help to make this quirky creepfest half-watchable today. It’s far from perfect, but it has its charms damnit, and it deserves another chance. It also goes great with a tall cup of coffee. Now go on Coop, rescue that Japanese woman.
Good ol’ Coop.