Director David Lynch says, "The thing is about secrets." The
"thing" is Twin Peaks, the wingdingiest thing to make it onto network
television in many a full moon. In an already overquoted quote about
his ominous, enthralling new prime-time soap opera, Lynch has called
Twin Peaks "Peyton Place meets Blue Velvet." It's that and more: It's
Mayberry R.F.D. Goes Psycho; Pee-wee's Playhouse Has a Nervous
Breakdown; and the first you-really-can't-miss- this show of the
At the start of Twin Peaks, the body of a young woman, wrapped in
plastic, washes ashore in a small Northwestern mill village. The
girl's blue- veined, death-frosted skin is in startling contrast to
the lush, warm greens and blues of this verdant land.
There's a stately beauty to the way Lynch shoots the discovery of
the corpse of Laura Palmer, a popular local girl, but even as you're
becoming absorbed in the mystery of who killed her, Lynch and
cowriter Mark Frost begin toying with their story's tone and rhythm.
The local police chief is improbably named Harry S. Truman, and
he's played by Michael Ontkean, 16 years ago a rookie on The Rookies.
Sheriff Truman is a pretty standard strong, silent type, but he has a
gangling, neurotic deputy who collapses into racked sobbing upon
seeing Laura's body. "Come on," Truman hisses disgustedly, "is this
gonna happen every damn time?"
Very quickly, subplots surface: a power play for the ownership of
the town's chief employer, Packard Sawmill, featuring Piper Laurie
and The Last Emperor's Joan Chen; the unhappy marriage of Ed (Everett
McGill), owner of Ed's Gas Farm, and his eye-patched wife; the
romances and rivalries among the town's bored, looking-for-trouble
teens. These are time-warped hoods who sneer, "Hey, it's happy hour
in France" and swig whiskey from a flask at 8 in the morning. Lynch
makes an erotic fetish out of close-ups of the saddle shoes worn by a
sloe-eyed bad girl played by Sherilyn Fenn.
Meanwhile, Angelo Badalamenti's beautifully tense, overwrought
music fills the soundtrack, and vaguely familiar faces loom up here
and there: The Mod Squad's Peggy Lipton as a sassy coffee-shop owner;
West Side Story's Russ Tamblyn as a randy ody ooat of a psychiatrist.
Best of all, there's Kyle MacLachlan, looking like a young,
demented Robert Vaughn, as FBI agent Dale Cooper. MacLachlan, who was
in Lynch's Blue Velvet, here does a witty variation on the
zombie-alien cop he played in the neglecttd 1987 B-movie The Hidden.
MacLachlan's Cooper seems like a goofball at first, walking around
dictating his most banal thoughts into a tape recorder. ("Had a piece
of cherry pie that was incredible!")
But then we see what Sheriff Truman sees: that Cooper's distracted
dopiness is a cover for a brain working furiously, taking in every
piece of information the world offers him and using it to solve his
cases. MacLachlan has to deliver some of Lynch and Frost's most
parodic, TV-spoofing dialogue, but he pulls it off with a devilish
Will Twin Peaks be a hit? Not a chance in hell. (Well, maybe in
hell ) Soaked corpses, sobbing deputies, and muttering G-men it's all
very unsettling, as is Lynch's refusal to signal the emotion he wants
the viewer to feel in any given scene.
But strong emotions are very close to the surface in Twin Peaks,
and that may also make viewers uncomfortable. When Laura's mother
learns her daughter is dead, she doesn't whimper and sniffle the way
most prime-time grievers do; she emits a gut-wrenching moan and then
wails so loudly the walls of her home seem to shake. It's a shocking
moment, moving and repellent at the same time.
Much as I enjoyed being unsettled-thrown for Lynch's loop-I also
recognize that that's not what most people watch TV for, and I'm
guessing that a hefty percentage of the millions who'll tune in out
of curiosity won't make it past Peaks' grim first 15 minutes. Groans
of "Honey, we're missing Married With Children for this?" will
resound throughout this great land, as remote- control
trigger-fingers get itchy.
Cynical, anti-art NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff
has phrased it perfectly: "I probably would want to live in a country
where something like (Twin Peaks) could work," he told The Washington
Post, "but I suspect it will be a tough road for them."
A show like this also invites all the standard philistine
complaints-" It's boring"; "It's pretentious"; "Who wants to think
when you're watching television?"-some of which I fully expect to
hear from TV critics trying to break away from the pack.
But Twin Peaks is different from most other shows that have
striven to be innovative, from Larry Gelbart's United States to Jay
Tarses' The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. For one thing, Peaks is
good-engrossing and funny; for another, it doesn't carry those shows'
stink of smugness.
David Lynch isn't condescending to television. While Twin Peaks
shares with his feature films an eerie airiness and sinister non
sequiturs, it has its own video style.
Lynch has crafted the two-hour pilot around its commercial breaks,
making what he has called "little movies," segments that build and
climax before an ad dispels the mood. Twin Peaks makes you aware of
just how slapped together most TV entertainment is; its calm,
deliberate eccentricity is a virtue in itself.
ABC continues to be the only network taking bold chances. Elvis
may or may not be dead, but, for seven more hour-long episodes
starting April 12, the bodies and the non sequiturs will pile up,
eccentricities will deepen into dementia, and Twin Peaks will live.