Before 1990, television shows were always different from films and cinema: flat sets, stories about happy families and groups of friends that never age or go anywhere, overly-serious dialogue delivered by first-time actors with a tendency to over-act… All of this was fairly common. That is, until the pilot for Twin Peaks premiered on April 8 1990 on ABC. Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, this murder mystery/drama revolutionized serials all over the world, introducing various cinematic elements and raising the bar of made-for-TV entertainment.
The story is set in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington. The dead body of homecoming queen and beloved girl Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) has been found wrapped in plastic on the shore of the lake. Soon after, another girl, Ronette Pulanski, is found over the Canadian border, so the FBI is called to solve the case. From here, we follow Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kale MacLachlan) as he tries to find who killed and hurt young Laura and Ronette, while also discovering deeper secrets of the townsfolk.
The cast is comprised of both veteran actors, newcomers, and Lynch regulars: actors like Piper Laurie, Ray Wise and Richard Beymer bring gravitas and more professional acting to the table; then-newcomers Lara Flynn Boyle, Dana Ashbrook, Sheryl Fenn and James Marshall ride the line between annoying teenagers and lovable kids perfectly; Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Nance and Catherine Coulson deliver the trademark weirdness and quirkiness of Lynch. The acting of everyone is perfectly directed in each episode, with borderline parody of soap operas and cheesy serials of the time.
Right from the Pilot, it is clear that Twin Peaks is going to be both similar and different to other TV shows: every character starts off as a cliché, and their storylines feel very conventional, but the further you get to know them, the more layers are uncovered. The overarching plot might be about discovering Laura Palmer’s killer, but you almost forget about it (just like most townspeople are) and you get swept by all the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of the characters. The show expands Lynch’s vision of the US’s (in my opinion, the whole of society’s) secrets that are hidden under a seemingly perfect and quiet life: inside our homes we tend to be more vulgar, angry, violent, aggressive, vulnerable, broken, and miserable than we tend to act when we are living in society. In the show very few characters have no secrets and no problems showing who they really are: one of them is Agent Cooper, a man who has seen so many horrible things in life that the small town of Twin Peaks, with its hot coffee, delicious pies, and ducks swimming on the lake gives him hope for humanity, and he consistently shares his excitement for life with all those surrounding him.
The show’s more alienating aspects for a mainstream audience (which are my favorite parts of it) are those related to the supernatural and dream sequences: there is a strong part of lore and mythology related to characters such as BOB and the Man from Another Place, or places such as the Red Room and the Black Lodge. These are all aspects that feel closer to other pieces of Lynch’s work, and they are truly fascinating. The theme of duality is present everywhere: dark rooms with strong flashlights that light them, the titular twin peaks, the RR diner, Laura’s lookalike cousin Madeleine, the façade that everyone puts on when working or on the street… Even 27 years later, the show still feels as relevant today as it did back then.
Technically, it is truly awe-inspiring: the cinematography employs long wide takes, pan focus, steady-cam sequences, and gorgeous vistas that truly elevate the material closer to the cinematic standards that we have come to expect from modern shows such as True Detective, Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. The expert use of lighting, the heavy presence of the color red, the disturbing visions with eclectic editing, and, most importantly, the iconic soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti made me understand why everyone loves this show that much, and why they keep coming back to it after all this time.
Overall, the first season of Twin Peaks is one of the best television seasons ever conceived, with a tight number of episodes, little fat and no meandering, compelling and quirky characters, funny moments, disturbing sequences, and a finale jam-packed with cliffhangers that are sure to make you start the second season as soon as the credits roll. An instant favorite, and one I can’t wait to rewatch after I am done with the second season, the revival, and the prequel movie.