For someone who claims any sort of standing as a television fan, particularly one with a leaning towards the more ‘genre’ shows, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit that I had never watched Twin Peaks. I’d not gone out of my way to avoid it or anything, I just somehow never got to it. But I finally figured enough was enough, purchased the dvd box set and settled in to watch it on a random week off work. I didn’t really pay much attention to the junction of season 1 and 2, for me the series sort of split into three equalish sections – an intriguing and entertaining first third, a weird and bemusing middle part and a disappointing and dull final third.
The series starts with the murder of Laura Palmer, which swiftly brings the quirky Agent Cooper to the small town of Twin Peaks where he fits right in with the eccentric residents. Within just a few episodes an intricate web of characters has been developed, with a full spectrum of humanity connected through history, secrets and a network of relationships that requires diagrams to keep track (yes, I drew a diagram, one day I may even share it). It’s a lot of fun watching Cooper gradually assimilate and start to unpick the mysteries that surround Laura Palmer’s death.
After a few episodes though, things take a turn from being ‘eccentric’ to being outright weird. Suddenly there are prophetic dreams, visions of dancing midgets and people talking oddly. When we eventually reach what should be the satisfying resolution to the investigation it’s buried amid mysticism and weirdness. I was spectacularly disappointed. Through all these years I’d managed to stay unspoiled on one of the biggest television questions of all time – who killed Laura Palmer, and when I finally find out the answer I realise that the reason it was possible to remain unspoiled was that no one actually wants to share the information because it’s so random and unsatisfying. I literally shouted at the screen.
My disappointment grew as the series continued to drag on with increasingly weird and intricate plots that seemed to be something about aliens, or maybe ghosts. I don’t even know, because I genuinely couldn’t care less and barely paid attention. When the series reached its end I couldn’t even summon up any sadness that it left a vast collection of unanswered questions and unresolved storylines. To be honest, I was just glad it was over and I could stop watching.
I had to think quite hard about why I didn’t like Twin Peaks, I’ve watched plenty of series with those kind of weird visiony elements before and not been nearly as irritated. I think the problem here was that it felt like a bit of a bait and switch, that I got lured in by one type of show, that seemed to offer the opportunity to investigate the crime alongside the characters, and then swapped to something that I could never have predicted.
Complaining that Twin Peaks is weird is also probably a bit like complaining that Glee is cheesy or that Grey’s Anatomy is emotionally manipulative; the first thing anyone ever says about Twin Peaks is that it’s weird. But there are different types of weirdness and Twin Peaks pulled a switch again, starting off an exemplar of ‘quirky’ with its small town full of odd characters, but suddenly descending into the mumbo-jumbo weirdness, that I for one find far more likely to induce eye-rolling than chuckling.
Twin Peaks is something of an institution, a rite of passage. It was definitely a series out of its time, it’s hard to believe that it was made in 1990 (the biggest hits of the year were things like Cheers and Murder She Wrote), a long time before serialised dramas that built up week on week would become popular (and then unpopular again). For all that I criticised the plot, the characters are absolutely superb, dozens of them all with fully developed backstories, mysteries and development, they all leapt off the screen from the lead man Agent Cooper through every single guest star and cameo. My disappointment and frustration stems from the fact that they took the cheap way out of the plot with the mysticism angle, rather than properly utilising the great options they had with their fantastic cast, fascinating and fun characters and beautifully created network of relationships. The first third of the series really was incredible, why it went so bad is the true mystery of Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks never seems to get shown on television, which is odd… but it is available on dvd.