Twin Peaks: Season 1 and 2

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.


Battle of the Shows – Round 1 are doing a sort of battle of the best TV drama of the last 25 years. I started reading it and was really impressed at the depth of the analysis and with the unexpected outcome of the first decision. But then I read a second article and I could not have disagreed more strongly with their choice. I figured I’d run through their choices myself and explain why they are wrong.

NB – They have started out with a shortlist of 16, which was already wrong. There’s a few of my top shows of the decade missing from the get-go and of course it ignores the output of every country other than the US (oh and Canada, there’s some Canadians on the list!). But I wanted to use the same list.

So round 1 – ding ding:

Deadwood vs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This was the first category I came across (because I got the link from Whedonesque) and thought that Buffy would be in for short shrift. But I was impressed not only by the depth of the analysis, but by the fact that Buffy won. Although I’m well known as a Buffy fan, even I don’t think this was an easy competition to judge. I really love Deadwood, it’s a fascinating and unusual show that brings the poetry of Shakespeare to potty mouthed prospectors. Buffy on the surface is just an American high school show with cheerleaders who happen to fight vampires, but of course as any number of sources will tell you it’s really about life and destiny and choice. The beauty of Buffy is that it’s actually both, it’s hugely entertaining and it’s really very important. It created its own genre and dozens of shows owe Buffy their success.

The other issue to me though, and this is what really swung it – Deadwood is incomplete. Cruelly cut down in its prime, it never got to finish its story. Of course that’s not the shows fault, but when I evaluate the competition Buffy got more time and told a complete story.

The X-Files vs. The West Wing
This was where lost me. I’m sorry, but no way in this universe or the next is The X-Files a better show than The West Wing. My love of The West Wing is well documented all over this site, so I’ll not go over how smart the dialogue is, or how fascinating the subjects are, or how much I adore all the characters. On the flip side you won’t find any article about The X-Files because I haven’t re-watched it since I started writing reviews properly about 8 years ago. Now like every geeky teenage girl of the mid 90s I adored Fox Mulder, obsessively videoing every episode and dissecting them with my friends. But even my adoration couldn’t stick with the show when 4 seasons in it degenerated into overly complicated, drawn out conspiracy theories and endless will-they-won’t-they relationship bumblings. Then it went on another 28 seasons or something. Yes, The West Wing had some dodgy phases and although it eventually clawed its way back for a breathtaking season 7, it never really reached its original heights; but the best of The X-Files was never as good as The West Wing’s, and its worst was considerably worse and much longer.

Breaking Bad vs. Friday Night Lights
I have never seen Breaking Bad, I have sesaon 1 on dvd, but I just haven’t got round to watching it. So, I don’t really have any right to make a judgement here. However while I’ve heard stunning things of the early Breaking Bad, I’ve also heard some disappointment at the direction of later seasons. So with an acknowledgement that I’m not being fair, the only way I can vote is for the show that appealed enough for me to actually watch it. An easy win for Friday Night Lights.

The Sopranos vs. Six Feet Under
I’ve seen one season of The Sopranos and four of Six Feet Under, so I’m 5 seasons short on Sopranos and 1 season short on Six Feet Under. But the reason that I haven’t finished either season is the key to my decision. I thought season 1 of The Sopranos was ok, but I never really connected to the characters and there was nothing calling out to me to watch more. The counterpoint to that is that I haven’t seen the final season of Six Feet Under because I don’t want to say goodbye to the characters. I have had the season 5 dvds on my shelf for years, but haven’t watched them because although I know it is a superb season and often described as one of the best series finales ever, I enjoyed the show too much to watch it end. It’s stupid, but that’s why Six Feet Under wins.

The Wire vs. My So-Called Life
This is a bit like the battle of who cares less. I have friends who threaten to disown me for this, but I just didn’t get along with The Wire, I watched one season and really struggled to follow what was happening. I do have vague intentions to give it another try though. Meanwhile, I’ve got the box set of My So-Called Life and haven’t made it past episode 2 – I can’t tell you anything about it, just that I haven’t bothered to put the dvd back in. So on episode count alone, The Wire wins.

The Shield vs. NYPD Blue
This one is another unfair one as I’ve never seen an episode of NYPD Blue in my life. I suspect it’s also not fair because without NYPD Blue, would The Shield exist? I’ve seen the first few seasons of The Shield and thought it was amazing, BUT I haven’t watched the whole series because I just couldn’t take any more. It was all just too bleak, violent and depressing. So do I go for the show that is a foundation for so many great shows after it but that I’ve never bothered to watch, or the one that takes those foundations to their logical but eventually unwatchable extreme? I genuinely flipped a coin and it came down in favour of The Shield.

Twin Peaks vs. Battlestar Galactica
I’m about two thirds of the way through Twin Peaks. I watched the first half obsessively over the space of a week and have got at least 4 blog posts in my head about it. So why haven’t I finished watching it? Mostly because like most people who watched the show, I found that after they solved the initial mystery of who killed Laura Palmer, the momentum of the show just disappeared. Secondly I wasn’t actually a fan of the levels of weirdness it degenerated to, I liked the kooky and odd stuff, but the resolution to the mystery was just too much. Battlestar Galactica came pretty close to losing me a few times along the way as well with its rather extreme mythologies. But I stuck with it, because it was so well written and produced and in the end, I think it all came together, and then it dutifully stopped. Maybe if Twin Peaks had just stopped, it would have stood a chance, but as it didn’t, Battlestar wins.

Mad Men vs. Lost
I gave up on Lost somewhere in the third season, because I lost faith in the writers. I felt they were trying too hard to make a television show that could be stretched out for as many years as possible, rather than telling a well paced mystery story. By all accounts I should probably go back and watch it through because I hear it pulled it all back together in the end, but I haven’t got round to that yet. With Mad Men however, I have nothing BUT faith in the writers. It’s one of the slowest series I’ve ever watched, half a dozen episodes can go by with seemingly nothing happening except gorgeous period detail and subtle acting. But every now and then, something happens – two characters share a moment, or a single line of dialogue and you realise that all that nothingness has been building to that one perfect moment. It’s breathtaking. The only proviso I put on awarding this win to Mad Men is that it’s one of the few shows on this list still airing new episodes and it still has time to blow it.

Next up – Round 2, and the semifinals and the final