Twin Peaks: the viewing revolution was televised
WE live in a time when television shows can engage our attention in such a way that we become obsessed with them. We even start to stalk them, impatient with anticipation until we can see them again. David Lynch’s Twin Peaks was the first such program.
It was the story of the search by the eccentrically intuitive detective Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) for the murderer of the beautiful Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee, pictured), “day-ud, wrapped in plastic”, in the small Washington state town of the title.
Lynch’s offering changed TV with its disquieting, dreamlike style; its campy fusion of soap opera with 1950s murder mystery melodrama; its violence and sexuality; its focus on setting as character; and the way everything seemed connected to some deeper, murky, pattern of implication.
Co-created by Hill Street Blues writer Mark Frost, it debuted in 1990 — nine years before The
Sopranos marked the beginning of the so-called golden age of TV storytelling. It was the first series about which fans become evangelical, desperate for others to share the experience in a way we expect of television today. It dared viewers to take it seriously and made us believe
we would be loyal to it for seasons to come, in contrast to the flashy, interchangeable courtroom, hospital and police procedurals with which commercial TV was infatuated at the time.
It presaged an era in which we would establish new relationships with our favourite shows, such
as The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost,
Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Broadchurch, watching them in different ways. They would no longer be simply diverting pastimes but part of our lives, deserving of our passion in a way TV shows had never been.
We obsessed about who killed Laura Palmer; the dancing dwarf who spoke backwards; the onearmed man; the traffic lights that kept turning red; the Log Lady; why the fish was in the percolator; and the meaning of that damned ceiling fan.
A huge critical and commercial hit in its first season, the show was too quickly a victim of its own success, not enduring beyond its second outing. “It was like we had a little goose that kept laying golden eggs and then we were asked to take that little goose and snip its head off,” Lynch said. Lynch’s reimagining next year of Twin Peaks will be watched closely, by old and new generations alike.