22 May 2017

Twin Peaks is still unlike anything you’ve seen on TV

7:41 pm on 22 May 2017

Warning: (Some) spoilers ahead.


Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

Kyle MacLachlan as FBI agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. Photo: Showtime

A recent BBC critics poll judged Mulholland Drive the best movie of the century so far.

David Lynch’s 2001 mystery-drama is full of surreal images and beguiling subplots that seem to go nowhere. But its fragmented nature is surpassed by the whole - it’s frightening, touching, fascinating and above all, weird.

The film’s non-linear structure makes a little more sense when you consider it was a failed pilot that Lynch originally devised as a TV show while he was making another series, Twin Peaks, in the early 90’s.

Twin Peaks was unlike anything on television. It was groundbreaking in how many conventions it broke.

More than 25 years later, the cult series to which so many modern series owe credit, is back; and it feels more cinematic than small screen. It’s almost Mulholland Drive: the series.

Newcomers needn’t worry, the premiere of the Lynch and Mark Frost-helmed show will be just as puzzling to die-hard fans. But linear narratives haven’t been David Lynch’s style for a long time. It’s the feeling that counts.

When Twin Peaks signed off in 1991 during a truncated second season, its boy scout FBI agent protagonist, Dale Cooper, had been captured by a demonic version of himself.

Season three doesn’t shy away from that cliffhanger: Bad Dale is still bad, while Good Dale is trapped in the mystical Black Lodge.

But the first episode’s key, or at least most jarring moment comes 30 minutes in. A young man stares at an empty glass box in New York. He occasionally gets up and checks on a machine aiding his task, but mostly he just sits and stares. Basically, nothing happens. Until it does.

A pale, faceless monster emerges from the box and violently tears the man and his lover apart. It’s classic slasher movie and almost silly, yet scary as hell. The scene also continues Lynch’s love of mysterious boxes.

There’s a decapitated head in South Dakota and a very serious dude in Las Vegas. The chances of these diverting strands eventually tying together is slim, but again, that’s not the point. Just like the point of the original run wasn’t “Who killed Laura Palmer?”.

Only about a quarter of the first two episodes is set in Twin Peaks, the town. In that time, though, many old, familiar faces return. Some, like wide-eyed receptionist Lucy Moran, haven’t changed in the slightest.

In its first two seasons, Twin Peaks was fun and quirky. There were running gags about coffee and cherry pie and intentionally stilted dialogue. Today’s first two episodes feel less melodramatic and similar to the darker Fire Walk With Me - the 1992 Twin Peaks movie spinoff. Admittedly, there was a particularly sweet moment in the final scene at the The Bang Bang Bar.

The two hours aren’t perfect. Some scenes fall a little flat, others go on too long. Matthew Lillard of Scooby Doo fame turns up and tries his hardest. Yet as a whole, the show works as a fever dream. It's lack of any sort of soundtrack has a disconcerting effect.

The immersive world of the original series is back and this time seems more expansive and unpredictable. The prospect of eighteen hours of this doesn’t seem like much.

Lynch and Frost must attract a new audience, but are also going to make the most of their creative control. They are famed for their organic creative process.

Not everyone is a fan of the new episodes. Time writer Daniel D’Addario wrote Lynch and Frost have “made surrealism less of a tool and more of an objective”.

“Lynch's impenetrability has grown greater in recent years - earlier films like Blue Velvet or even the first season of Twin Peaks feel uncomplicated by comparison. But inscrutability in and of itself is not necessarily a virtue; if a show is designed not to be understood, it also loses opportunities to connect.”

After Fire Walk with Me was released, Lynch said he was planning two more movies to conclude his narrative.

Instead, he’s created 18 hours of what's already starting to feel like cinematic wonder.

Twin Peaks airs on New Zealand's Sky SoHo channel at 8.30pm.