In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
Welcome, dear readers, to the first entry in what hopefully will be a long-running weekly column here on PoP! The main purpose of this new feature will be for me to use Netflix’s extensive library of old TV shows to familiarize myself with several well-regarded programs that I have either never seen or have not seen enough to form an opinion on. The first entry in this weekly experiment will be eccentric director David Lynch’s well-loved TV drama Twin Peaks, which ran for two seasons during the years 1990 and 1991. This show has long been considered ahead of its time and highly influential to later programs such as Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and True Blood that injected genre elements into the format of a serialized weekly drama. This first entry will offer my objective views on the first two episodes of Twin Peaks, with each successive week covering two more episodes until the run is complete and I move on to another show.
The 90-minute pilot episode does what every introductory episode should do in that it quickly establishes the main point of the show and then effectively introduces the viewer to the principal and secondary characters. After a beautifully shot title sequence that shows off the fictional Washington town in which this show is set, scored by Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting and immensely catchy theme song, the episode opens with the discovery of high school student Laura Palmer’s dead body, stripped nude and left by a riverbank, wrapped in plastic. The local police are quickly notified, and Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) takes it upon himself to inform Laura’s parents (Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie), who are understandably traumatized by the news, as is Laura’s best friend Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle). The plot thickens when Laura’s classmate Ronette Pulaski is found half-naked and wandering around the train tracks in a zombie-like stupor. It’s around this time when FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) arrives, who begins to work with Truman and his fellow officers to try to find the killer because he believes it has some ties to a past murder case in a nearby town.
By conducting interviews with many of the town’s residents, Cooper discovers that Laura had ties with practically everyone in town, and peeks into her personal journal and a safety deposit box she kept at the local bank show that she may have been involved in some illicit and highly dangerous activity that may have led to her death. When one of Truman’s deputies finds half of a heart-shaped locket near the area where Ronette was found, Cooper and Truman begin rounding up possible residents who may have knowledge regarding the whearabouts of the other half. Cooper and Truman immediately begin to suspect Laura’s boyfriend Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), who we discover early in the episode is having an affair with Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), a married waitress at the town’s local coffee shop. The discovery of the locket alarms Donna, who tracks down a young motorcycle enthusiast named James Hurley (James Marshall), who Laura was seeing behind Bobby’s back. Cooper and Truman eventually arrest Bobby, James, and Bobby’s friend Mike, all of whom were caught violating the curfew that the town imposed for all minors after Laura’s body was discovered.
In addition to all the characters previously listed, the pilot episode introduces several other local residents of Twin Peaks, all of whom seem to be harboring a secret. More than a handful of the characters in this episode are revealed to be engaging in some form of infidelity or are otherwise in a relationship that they don’t want others to know about. The only character who seems the most up-front and honest is Cooper himself, who is delighted by the aesthetic quaintness of the town and many of its odder residents, such as the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) who is never seen without holding a log in her arms like a baby.
This episode has all the trappings of the type of network prime-time soap opera that was popular at the time, but Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost manage to inject just enough weirdness into the pilot to make it rise above the typical fare found on TV in 1990. I’m not sure if other shows at the time had such a large and eccentric cast of characters, but the pilot of Twin Peaks does a wonderful job interweaving the central murder mystery plot with the development of these characters. Cooper is obviously intended to be our cypher for this bizarre and highly corrupt town, and yet his hilariously wide-eyed chipperness and inability to be surprised by anything makes him just as strange to us as anyone else in this town. The final shot of the episode, showing a mysterious figure digging up the matching piece of Laura’s locket that was buried earlier by another character, is the perfect capper to this premiere episode in that it immediately makes the viewer anxious to watch more, and since I’m watching this via Netflix Instant, I won’t have to wait a week to do so like those who watched Twin Peaks during its initial run had to. The pilot episode gets a highly enthusiastic 4.5 out of 5 Nervous Norweigians.
After being highly impressed with the pilot episode, I was slightly disappointed by its follow-up, entitled “Traces To Nowhere.” After a delightfully wacky introductory scene that shows Cooper hanging upside down in his hotel room dictating his impressions of the town into a tape recorder, the second episode is found lacking in many of the quirkier aspects that made the pilot episode so damn enthralling. Apart from Cooper’s interaction with the Log Lady, “Traces To Nowhere” is played mostly straight and is mostly devoted to the growing relationship between Donna and James, who is released from holding along with Bobby after both were cleared by Cooper of any suspicion of Laura’s murder. Donna at first feels extremely guilty about having feelings for Laura’s secret boyfriend, but by the end of the episode they become a legitimate item. Meanwhile, Bobby and his meathead crony reveal that they’ve been involved in some shady dealings with a trucker named Leo Johnson, who is married to Shelly the waitress and is hinted at being a prime suspect for Laura’s murder after Shelly discovers a blood-stained denim shirt in his truck.
The episode does manage to flesh out a few more characters that were briefly introduced in the pilot, such as sleazy hotel owner Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) and his mischievous teenage daughter Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn), who begins to set her sights on the unassuming Agent Cooper. We also get brief glimpses of Laura’s mother, who is not doing well at all and is seeing flashes of a skeevy long-haired fellow who we’ll no doubt be seeing more of in future episodes. Aside from a few brief moments that bring up new and interesting angles to the murder case, this episode is mostly devoted to Donna and James making goo-goo eyes at one another. The creators don’t seem too fixated on making them much of an interesting couple, however, so this might have been a case of network intervention. Still, I don’t expect them to have much of a happy ending, considering all the nasty dealings going on in this town. The episode does end well, when the identity of the mysterious figure who dug up the locket is revealed. Ultimately, this second episode spun its wheels a bit too much for my tastes, and hopefully the remainder of this season will come closer to matching the awesomeness of the pilot. 3.5 out of 5 Fish-Filtered Coffees.