In these strange times, there’s much satisfaction to be found in comfort watches, attempting to become the master baker you always dreamt you’d be, or trying to get into this new fad called ‘jogging’. We’re led to believe that it’s pronounced with a soft ‘J’.
However, of all the coping mechanisms we’ve tried whilst livin’ la vida lockdown, it’s become clear that now’s the perfect time to embrace the weirdness instead of being overpowered by it. And what better way to confront the surreal nature of current events than by peaking behind the thick red velvet curtain and discovering (or revisiting for the umpteenth time) the surreal world of one of the most defining pieces of television there ever was and which recently turned 30?
Now’s the time to watch Twin Peaks.
From the minds of bequiffed glory David Lynch and Mark Frost, Twin Peaks starts with the discovery of the body of high school student Laura Palmer. The homecoming queen has been murdered and is discovered “wrapped in plastic” near a riverbank. It’s up to FBI Agent Dale Cooper to investigate her mysterious murder in the insular town of Twin Peaks. Strangeness ensues, as this deceptively conventional whodunnit reveals the dark underbelly of small-town Americana, which includes a dancing dwarf speaking backwards, zig-zagging floors, cherry pie, and all the garmonbozia your dark heart could consume.
To this day, no other series has taken as many risks.
It’s hard to overstate quite how groundbreaking this unique and marvellously disorientating show was at the time. Before its arrival onto the screens in the Spring of 1990, primetime TV was something of a barren wasteland that thrived on sitcoms. Then came the strangest show ever to air on American TV, which launched a cultural obsession encompassed in one phrase: “Who Killed Laura Palmer?”
Audiences had never seen anything like it. Twin Peaks became must-see TV and a global cultural phenomenon. Fans included – apocryphally – Queen Elizabeth II, who skipped a birthday gig from Paul McCartney because it was 8pm and she had to catch the latest episode of her favourite show, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev, who tried to get George HW Bush to dish the dirt on who killed Laura Palmer. Lynch was reportedly contacted by a presidential minion, who never got the answer the Soviet leader was desperately seeking.
The series ran for two seasons before being cancelled. It was complemented by the 1992 film Fire Walk With Me, which chronicled Laura’s last days (and features a chilling cameo from David Bowie), and a third season, Twin Peaks: The Return, released in 2017. The Return was a very different beast in many ways, a bold and transcendent continuation to the original show. It was constructed as an 18-hour movie, and its brutal pacing lead some to label it as self-indulgent, while others, like French cinephile bible Cahiers du Cinéma, named it (somewhat controversially) the best film of the decade. It was a daring subversion of a revival, which didn’t fall into the trap of trying to recapture former glories and instead forged something new. Its eighth episode in particular is easily one of the most hauntingly memorable and challenging things you’ll ever experience on TV, an unrestrained headtrip that plays out like the abstract origin story of Evil itself. You’ve never seen anything like it.
But what’s so great about Twin Peaks, beyond the circumstances of its original release? Full tomes are needed to fully delve into how this show managed to stay in the public’s consciousness for so long. But to get down to brass tacks: it’s got everything. It’s a trippy and immersive mystery noir posing as a postmodern soap opera, an avant-garde porridge that eccentrically melds melodramatic tropes with dollops of horror, dream logic, surrealism and slapstick. The genre hybrid is chockablock full of indelible imagery – from the eerie extended shots of ceiling fans, to goosebump-inducing lines like “It’s happening again”, via one of the most pant-soilingly terrifying shots in TV history that sees malevolent entity BOB menacingly crawling towards the camera. If you know the scene already, chances are you’re feeling a bit nauseous right about now.
Most of all though, Twin Peaks was daring. To this day, no other series has taken as many risks. It embraced TV conventions to better subvert them, and brought cinematic language and storytelling ambition to the small-screen. It’s a series that left an edible mark on the world of TV, and its influence continues to ripple. Put simply, the pioneering risks that Lynch and Frost took paved the way for popular programming such as The X Files, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Lost, Fringe, Hannibal, True Detective… It’s actually much simpler (and shorter) to list the shows that aren’t inspired by Twin Peaks. It truly set the stage for more recent and binge-worthy shows like Stranger Things or teen soap opera Riverdale, which openly takes its cues from Twin Peaks to the extent it’s basically an all-out homage-gone-naff.
This is the show that changed the medium of TV itself.
We’re aware that it’s a daunting prospect to finally catch up on a revered and iconic cultural touchstone, and there’s nothing more off-putting than reading the feverish scribblings of rabid fan who metaphorically leg-humps you into viewing submission. But it is worth reminding that this is the show that changed the medium of TV itself: Twin Peaks proved that the “idiot box” could be challenging and not just the producer of mass entertainment for passive viewing. Lynch and Frost understood the power of deep serialization and paved the way for our current binge-watching age.
So, while you’re enjoying what many have referred to as “the golden age of television” and binging your new favourite show on whichever streaming platform you’ve elected as your quarantine entertainment saviour, spare a thought for the show that started it all. Granted, you might be yearning for chewing-gum-for-the-brain entertainment right now – something light that doesn’t require too much effort and a bare minimum of focus – but make no mistake: now’s the perfect time to go back to the show that changed everything. Head to peaks post-haste via Amazon Prime (or, for the love of the Black Lodge, be done with it and purchase the full boxset), and remember: “The owls are not what they seem”.