Friday, 21 September 2018

TV Show Review: Twin Peaks, Seasons 1 and 2

Pros: some great storylines, good representation, cultural impact

Cons: some hokey storylines, slow pacing, occasional over the top acting

When Twin Peaks aired on television in 1990 I was too young to have been watching and old enough to know what a phenomenon it was going to be. And it was a phenomenon. Most shows at that time were episodic, so if you missed one episode it didn’t matter (as they generally aired at one time on one day - and in reruns, if the show was popular enough and you could catch those episodes). So a show with a continuous storyline that required you see every episode, in order, was unusual. And then there was the hype around the tag line: Who killed Laura Palmer?  

Rewatching the show as an adult, it’s interesting what still worked, what didn’t, and what from the various storylines I remembered all these years later.

First off, I remember the show being quirky and mysterious. I did not remember it being a soap opera. And it most definitely is a soap opera.

Season 1 starts off with a 2 hour made for TV movie. It sets out the mystery of Laura’s death, the coming of FBI agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks to investigate the murder, and a decent number of the people who live in the town. That season ended on a cliff hanger when the season was riding high in the ratings. It’s surprisingly coherent in storytelling, with little jokes continuing from episode to episode (like the bizarre conferences going on at The Great Northern Hotel). As an adult, Agent Cooper’s mysticism didn’t work so well. If the FBI en mass actually worked the way he does in this show, no one would trust them to solve cases. While he does examine the evidence he’s got too much reliance on dreams and whatnot for me to believe any sheriff would follow his lead.

Season 2 solves the murder of Laura Palmer a third of the way through. The special feature on the DVD set I watched pointed out that solving the murder so soon was a mistake. Once Laura’s death was solved, the allure of the show vanished and all you were left with was the soap opera. And while the characters were interesting, the increasingly lurid storylines just weren’t compelling enough to get the show a third season. Until 25 years later.

A few things really impressed me about the show. As I said, the storytelling on the whole is impressive. There are a large number of storylines and quite a few of them are resolved. 

The DVD special mentioned that Josie Packard was originally written as an Italian woman, but they liked Joan Chen’s audition so much they rewrote the part so she was from Hong Kong instead. Deputy ‘Hawk’ was played by an actual Native American. I was also impressed by representations of disability, like Donna Hayward’s mother who’s in a wheelchair (and it’s never explained why) and Nadine Hurley’s missing eye. Season 2 has a trans woman (played by David Duchovny - X-Files started in 1993) and while her scenes can be awkward at times, it’s still impressive in terms of representation for its time (for our time too, to be honest).

Almost every character in the show has some quirk. And they’re pretty in your face obvious, like the log lady carrying a log that speaks to her and FBI Director Gordon Cole’s propensity to shout due to his difficulty hearing. On one hand it made some people feel like caricatures, while on the other, it made the town feel more realistic.

The music was great, offbeat and quirky to match the characters. We had the soundtrack so I still remember all the different character themes.

Watching it nowadays it’s a fairly slow moving, often boring show. There are a lot of panning shots and close-ups that last too long. Some of the storylines are just comically bad and some of the resolutions disappointing as they depend on mysticism of some kind. The acting is often over the top (especially Leland Palmer, whose scenes of grief are hard to watch - and make me wonder if Lynch was trying to show how callous people are in the face of others’ grief, expecting them to get over tragedy quickly as it’s hard to watch someone else break down).

The show had a huge impact at the time and still has its moments. I don’t think I could watch it again though.

I tried watching the more recent 3rd season and just couldn’t. It was so slow and several episodes in still had no plot. Some things are products of their time and there’s no going back.

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