Sunday, August 03, 2008

Twin Peaks

I was expecting to enjoy watching Twin Peaks on DVD; I haven't really seen the show since it was canceled in 1991 and remember it fondly. But I wasn't expecting to be hit with an almost overwhelming sense of remembrance. It was as if I was both watching the show and watching myself watch the show as a 15 year old, and remembering just how stunningly weird and strange the show was.

I might go so far as to say that you can divide the history of American television into pre- and post-Twin Peaks. The pilot is an audacious piece of storytelling that drops us into the middle of a town full of the sorts of secrets and lies you'd find in a typical primetime drama or soap opera and then blows it wide open with the murder of Laura Palmer. I'd never seen anything like it before -- while townsfolk were running around double-crossing each other's business deals or hiding their illicit relationships there was this strange, unknowable world happening just behind it.

This sense of weirdness, just out of sight, is reflected several times in the pilot. Watch the backgrounds of each scene carefully -- there are a number of scenes in which something important is happening behind whichever character is the focus of the scene: The sheriff's truck pulling up far in the distance while Leland Palmer tries to calm his wife, or deputies walking toward the principal's office while teenagers talk to and ignore each other in the halls of the high school. It's a signal that this show is going to be different from anything else you'd ever seen before.

And it was.

And it paved the way for serialized shows where weirdness unapologetically happens. Twin Peaks paved the way for The X-Files and Buffy and Angel and Lost and Battlestar Galactica and dozens of other shows that have made TV infinitely more interesting than it was before 1990 -- and instead of being the goofy shows that made it on the air because everything else fell through, they're the tentpoles of their networks. Twin Peaks got canceled but made TV safe for smart, weird shows, and TV's much the better for it.

Another thing I remembered was that FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper was, hands down, the coolest man on the planet, and I wanted to be him when I grew up, except that my hair cannot do that.

And there was one more thing that made the show irresistible to my restless teenage brain. Well, three things:


De said...

Interesting analysis, Chris. It was kind of rocky there for a while with serialized TV. I remember Murder One being constantly on the bubble because people "couldn't get into it" without watching from the beginning.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

You know, I've never seen Murder One. Wasn't Anthony Lapaglia on that at one point?

De said...

He was indeed and according to IMDB, so was Jason "Iron Eagle" Gedrick (?!).