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Twin Peaks returns in May 2017 for its long-awaited comeback – but if you’ve never visited the North-western town where murder is the least weird thing going on, here’s everything you need to know about David Lynch’s cult 1990s TV show.
The owls are not what they seem
From the moment the body of prom queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is discovered, wrapped in plastic, Twin Peaks revolutionised television. Every box set binge you’ve made on Netflix likely owes something to the years-ahead-of-its-time series created by Mark Frost and ace film director David Lynch.
This is a parody of soap operas that quickly became just as addictive as any soap for its wild plotting, mercurial tone and fascinating characters. It’s also a mainstream series that pushed the envelope in terms of production values and shocking subject matter. It’s frequently funny – an entire sequence revolves around a fish being found in a coffee percolator – but often absolutely terrifying, especially when Lynch is on hand to direct Laura’s killer, the demonic Bob. (And no, that’s not really a spoiler: the question remains as to who Bob’s alter-ego is.) Most of all, Twin Peaks is consistently, delightfully weird; if you’re after backwards-talking dwarves and elderly waiters who transform into giants, it’s the only place on telly to go.
Twin Peaks’ star burned brightly but faded rapidly, due partly to network pressure, but also the fact that neither the show’s makers or its audience really knew how to deal with a series like this. Cancelled prematurely after a patchy (but still rewarding) second season, Lynch followed up with divisive prequel film Fire Walk With Me, before consolidating his status as one of America’s most revered filmmakers with Mulholland Drive.
Initially, its influence lay in bringing weird Americana to the small screen – Northern Exposure, The X-Files (whose star, David Duchovny, had a breakout role here) and Desperate Housewives, where Twin Peaks’ star Kyle McLachlan found another signature role. Fast forward to the modern TV era, and any show with ambition, from Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad, is looking to emulate the thrill of Peaks at its peak, but also to perfect and maintain it over many years.
A damn fine place to live
TV wasn’t made like this. To be honest, most of it still isn’t. As shaped by Lynch, Twin Peaks is – to use a phrase that’s often abused, but entirely apt in this case – cinematic. This is a series that lives on less for its storytelling (which gets more wayward the longer it goes on) and more for its rich atmosphere.
Few series have been quite so obsessed by texture. The show was filmed in and around the evocative Washington town of Snoqualmie, whose waterfall provides the series’ most iconic location. The surrounding Pacific North-western woods are as crisp as a countryside stroll in daylight, but creepy as hell at night. Or take the fact that everybody is obsessed with food and drink. The cherry pies are damn fine, the coffee comes black as midnight on a moonless night and the police force end every day with a box of donuts.
The series is postmodern in the best sense, at once strikingly modern and achingly retro in its costume design and – especially – music. Angelo Badalamenti’s score has a haunting, timeless quality of noirish romance that continues to be a wellspring for left-field musicians, notably Lana Del Rey.
Meet the neighbours
If you’re visiting a town, you want good company. In Twin Peaks, there are brilliant characters at every turn, all the more watchable because you’ll be trying to figure out which of them killed Laura Palmer. From scheming businessman Ben Horne to redneck psycho Leo Johnson, there’s no shortage of suspects. And then there are the really strange folk: one-eyed housewife Nadine, obsessed with inventing silent drape runners; psychiatrist Dr Jacoby, whose penchant for Hawaiian shirts makes you wonder if he’s the crazy one, or Margaret, aka. the Log Lady – literally, a lady who carries around (and communicates with) a log.
It’s also a series with heaps of sex appeal. The cast is ridiculously good-looking and the ladies and gentlemen of Twin Peaks are formative crushes to those of a certain age. For those into the fellas, there’s Dana Ashbrook’s bad boy, Bobby Briggs, and James Marshall’s soulful biker, James Hurley. As for the women, arguments have raged for years over who is sexiest: Laura Flynn Boyle’s Donna Hayward, Madchen Amick’s Shelly Johnson or Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne (although, of course, the correct answer is Audrey).
Uniting everything that makes Twin Peaks’ characters so watchable – the quirkiness, the sex appeal and all-round quotability – is MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. Called into investigate Laura’s murder, Coop is an instant TV legend – eternally optimistic, detecting using intuition, dreams and the Buddhist technique of throwing rocks at bottles, and sharing everything by dictaphone with his unseen secretary. Diane. Well, we assume Diane’s a real person; maybe that’s just what he calls his dictaphone.
It is happening again
That’s only scratching the surface of why Twin Peaks is so immersive. Spend time with this series, and you’ll soon find yourself speaking differently. The catchphrases come thick and fast: The owls are not what they seem. Fire, walk with me. That gum you like is going to come back in style.
Most remarkable is the giant’s warning to Dale Cooper: it is happening again. This May, it certainly is. Time to take out the guide book and pay a visit to Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks Season 1 and 2 are available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can stream them both on-demand through NOW TV, which costs £6.99 a month, no contract.
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