April 21st, 2009

Live fast

Twin Peaks? More Like Chin Freaks!

I went into Twin Peaks knowing a few things: it was weird, it got bad after they revealed who killed Laura Palmer, and who killed Laura Palmer. Not that the spoiler really mattered since I didn't know the whole story.

Everyone knows what Twin Peaks is about. In the small town of Twin Peaks, WA, the town sweetheart, Laura Palmer, is murdered. Enter Agent Dale Cooper to investigate the mystery. But, oh ho, there is more to this town than small town charm! For instance, basically all the main characters are cheating on each other. Or just plain cheating each other. There are business schemes, bad marriages, illicit affairs, and all sorts of other shenanigans. I was surprised that the pilot was relatively normal, but the show got weirder and weirder as it progressed, incorporating dreams and the supernatural.

This was my first exposure to David Lynch. I have yet to see any of his movies, but now I know not to expect them to make any sense. Most of the weirdness in Twin Peaks is weird for the sake of being weird without any real explanation, but not in a Grant Morrison way. Grant Morrison just wants to have fun. David Lynch wants to fuck with you. After a while, I just accepted that the weird shit was not going to have any logical explanation and went with it on its own terms. Sure, there's a dancing midget. Sure, there's a mysteriously appearing giant. Sure, there's a one-armed man. Bring it on, Lynch.

What kept me engaged were the quirky, likable characters. From the moment Kyle MacLachlan steps onscreen, you know Agent Dale Cooper is going to be a character for the ages, easily earning himself a place on all future Top X TV Characters of All Time lists. Although he's obviously a proto-Mulder, he's very much his own person. He completely owns the show with his stoicism, deductive skills, and complete sincerity. He forms a strong friendship with Sheriff Harry S. Truman, who's an all-around good guy. He's well respected by Deputy Hawk, a Native American who spends a refreshingly small percentage of his screentime imparting sage spiritual wisdom, usually just walking around and being awesome. Coop is one of the few who respect Andy, who's a bit slow but has a good heart and is actually useful every now and then. Andy's a perfect match for the receptionist, Lucy, who is hilariously redundant and similarly adorable. I basically loved the whole police department.

There are a lot of other adult characters, but with the exception of the very pretty Norma, owner of her own diner, I was more interested in the various teenagers. The girls were pretty and the boys were angsty. Especially in the first season, they were the ones to pay attention to since they were the ones who really knew Laura. My favorite teen was Audrey Horne, who starts out as kind of an annoying bitch but really grows over the course of the series.

As you might have gathered, there are a shitload of characters, which helps makes the town of Twin Peaks feel real and populated. Of course, this also means that in any given episode, you're likely not to care about a small chunk of the storylines. On the other hand, there are a slew of fun guest stars like Miguel Ferrer, David Duchovny, Billy Zane, Heather Graham, and even David Lynch himself. Also a hot redhead.

A quick note on music before we enter the homestretch: I have the Lost Highway soundtrack, so I was familiar with Angelo Badalamenti's general style. But the soundtrack to Twin Peaks is one of the many things that set it apart. It's supposed to be a creepy, disturbing murder mystery, and the music is generally jazzy and sentimental. It's an interesting contrast. Even though I wondered whether Badalamenti was supremely lazy back in the nineties, since the whole series uses the same three or four pieces of music over and over.

The first season is usually heralded as the good one (and I don't think you'll find anyone who will disagree). Each episode—each episode takes place over a 24-hour time period, which is a storytelling framework I enjoy—builds and improves upon the previous one. Beyond the murder mystery, the show provides a compelling picture of a town grieving, both collectively and individually. While there are vague hints of supernatural elements, there's nothing too outlandish. In the second season, however, the supernatural elements are more enhanced, which results in the story making less sense. The mystery and intrigue also heat up, though, leading to an incredibly unsatisfying mystery resolution for such a classic show. The show then flounders for a few episodes before introducing a new antagonist who breathes life back into the show. Yet, the show has so many characters by that point that it struggles to give them all plotlines, so we're also treated to a lot of pointless shit. And just as the show is getting fairly interesting again—and attempting to tie the series together—we get a terrible series finale. So much WTF it was dripping out of my television screen. Not to mention the resolution of the puzzle box storyline.

But that's Twin Peaks for you. Weird, frustrating, boring, engaging, hilarious, interesting, confusing, intriguing, silly, adorable, disturbing. It's quite a marvel that a show like it lasted 29 episodes on ABC—and at one point was a bona fide hit. Regardless of how good it actually is, it's like ariiadne says: that sure was on TV.