Twin Peaks Season 1: Unlike anything else on TV
Simon Kinnear | On 28, Mar 2017
It doesn’t take long to fall under the spell of Twin Peaks. Like newly arrived FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) – captivated by the lush woodlands and entranced by the damn fine cherry pie – this is immersive television has lost none of its power to surprise and beguile. Ahead of the series’ return to our screens in May, it’s the perfect time to watch it from the beginning.
The first season, comprising a feature-length pilot and seven regular episodes, was an instant hit back in 1990 and it isn’t hard to see why. Then, Twin Peaks stood out among mainstream TV dramas for its mercurial mood, narrative experimentation and cinematic verve. Today, we expect every series to have those standards of quality, but immediately from the beginning of the David Lynch-directed pilot, this remains amongst the finest debuts of them all.
It starts, not with Cooper, but with the discovery of the body – wrapped in plastic – of murdered prom queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Years before The Killing and Broadchurch, Lynch takes his time to chart the impact of Laura’s death on the community. For all Twin Peaks’ reputation for oddball whimsy, the opening half-hour is notable for its stark, sober depiction of grief, ably setting up the show as an all-American nightmare.
When another near-victim, Ronette Pulaski, emerges on the railroad tracks, the Feds are called in, at which point Twin Peaks comes into focus, if that’s the word for something so kaleidoscopic. Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost were at the vanguard of the era’s interest in postmodernism, freely mixing genres. Is this a detective thriller? A soap opera? A comedy? A horror? With Lynch’s fluid approach at the series’ heart, Twin Peaks is all of them.
And that’s what makes this first season such a triumph. Set over the course of just a week (one episode per day, with the finale taking place during the evening of Day Seven), there’s a gripping focus to Cooper’s investigation. There are countless suspects, and the plot strips away layers of normality to reveal drug dealing, prostitution and corruption behind the curtains. Viewed simply as a straight-arrow thriller, it’s a success. By the scintillating, cascade-of-cliffhangers finale, written and directed by Frost, you’ll appreciate just how successfully narrative arcs have been juggled throughout the season.
But Lynch and Frost throw in so much more. The characters, from ominous soothsayer the Log Lady to teen temptress Audrey Horne, are dramatic archetypes redrawn like you’ve never imagined them before. The various subplots collide in unpredictable ways, and the series isn’t afraid to indulge in daft coincidences or melodramatic dialogue. (There’s even a soap-within-the-soap, Invitation To Love, that plays on characters’ TV sets as an ironic counterpoint to the action.)
Yet it’s in Lynch’s next time behind the camera, Episode 2, that the series truly finds its rhythm. Cooper introduces Buddhist intuition into his investigation, throwing rocks at a bottle to identify Laura’s killer. This clearly isn’t like Hill Street Blues – instead, the scene combines slapstick comedy, McLachlan’s effortless charm and a haunting sense of the uncanny to drive forward the story. By the end of the episode, he’s discovered the killer… by having a dream about a backwards-talking dwarf and a demon called Bob. This clearly isn’t like… well, anything else on telly.
A word of warning: the original pilot was originally released in Europe as a stand-alone film that contradicts the series. To tie things up, it ends with an extra 15 minutes of material (including some of the dream sequence) that sees Cooper solve the Palmer case in a single day. For many years, it was the only way to watch the pilot. Thankfully, what’s currently available on Sky Box Sets (and NOW) is the original broadcast version. Great as the pilot is, you won’t want to stop there. Once you’ve visited Twin Peaks, you won’t want to leave.
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, which costs £6.99 a month, no contract.