Tuesday, July 11, 2017

That show you like is coming back in style

In the summer of 1990, David Lynch, who had seduced and shocked America four years earlier with his film Blue Velvet, launched a TV series set in the fictional north-western town of Twin Peaks. The series, which he co-created with Mark Frost, and which centred on an investigation into the rape and murder of a local girl named Laura Palmer, was an eccentric mix of police procedural, soap-opera melodrama and a dozen other subgenres. Fans of Lynch’s movies had grown somewhat used to his kookiness and psychosexual predilections; TV audiences, though, had never seen anything quite like Twin Peaks before. There was a short (and brilliant) first season, and a long (and uneven) second one, before ABC decided to discontinue the series. What followed was a quarter-century of deep, profound influence.

Twin Peaks didn’t just pre-date Peak TV—the overwhelming glut of original TV content—it helped create it. Lynch was a TV auteur before Vince Gilligan or Matthew Weiner or David Milch, and the risks he took paved the way for their rise a decade later. The X-Files borrowed from Twin Peaks a showrunner (Frost), cast members (David Duchovny; memorable as a transgender DEA agent) and an elliptical approach to mystery-solving. In an interview with Vulture, writer-director David Chase spoke about the show’s influence on The Sopranos, and the arty aesthetic and strangely spiritual quality that set it apart from everything else on TV in the early 1990s. Damon Lindelof, too, has stated categorically that there would have been no The Leftovers or Lost (which he co-created with J.J. Abrams) without Twin Peaks.

Over the years, this show has been deconstructed, mined and assimilated. Breaking Bad borrowed its brand of surrealism, Fargo its combination of small-town charm and menace, Lost its supernatural tendencies. Even minute details from it have been appropriated: The show’s tag line, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”, was turned into “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” on The Killing. In fact, so many shows are accused of having it in their DNA that Vulture could run—with more or less a straight face—a piece titled “A Brief History Of TV Shows Being Compared To Twin Peaks”. Several shows actively boast of the influence of the series: It’s an easy way to signal to a discerning audience that your show is ambitious, or unsettling, or weird. Donald Glover has described his ambitious comedy Atlanta as “Twin Peaks with rappers”.

Season 2 of Twin Peaks had ended with a dream sequence in which Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) tells Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) that she’ll see him in 25 years. This prophecy has, in proper Lynchian fashion, come true. This week, Twin Peaks is back as a Showtime series, with Frost and Lynch in charge. Lynch will direct all 18 episodes; MacLachlan will return, along with original cast members, including Sherilyn Fenn, Russ Tamblyn, M├Ądchen Amick and Harry Goaz, and several new recruits (Laura Dern, Tim Roth, Naomi Watts). Plot details have been closely guarded, though a teaser with the shot of Laura’s corpse from the original series and the words “It’s happening again” suggests that there might be another crime and investigation.

For fans of the series, the prospect of a continuing story is thrilling—and a little unnerving. Arrested Development came back after a gap of seven years; it wasn’t quite the same. The X-Files was revived after 14 years, and encountered a viewing public that had moved on. “The giddiness that accompanies news of a beloved show returning from the grave has an edge of desperation to it,” wrote Ian Crouch in the New Yorker when the news of Twin Peaks’ return was confirmed. “The thrill itself is death-haunted.”

Maybe it’s natural to feel conflicted. It’s worth noting that despite its now canonical status, critics weren’t uniformly enamoured by the show in 1990. After the first season, John Leonard wrote the New York magazine cover article which concluded that the show had “nothing at all in its pretty little head except the desire to please”. Yet, earlier in the piece, Leonard included a loving laundry list of Lynch attributes: “…the sinister fluidity, the absurd detail, the shocking relief, the elegant gesture, the deadpan jokes, the painterly pointillism, the bad puns, the erotic violence, the lingering close-up camera, the rampaging of non-sequiturs, the underlining and italicizing of emotions….” Come Sunday, we’ll begin to know if we get all, or some, or none of the above—whether, to use a line from the show, that gum we like has actually come back in style or not.

This piece appeared in Mint Lounge.

No comments: