In the small lumber town of Twin Peaks, the dead body of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Lee) is found. Affecting the whole town, her death becomes a federal matter and Special FBI Agent Dale Cooper (MacLachlan) is brought in to assist the local police force with their investigation. As he follows the clues, however, the town’s tranquil veneer is gradually peeled away to reveal a dark place full of secrets, and it becomes clear that something much darker than a single murder case is going on…
Who killed Laura Palmer? That was the big question on everyone’s lips in the early nineties as one of television’s most famous murder mysteries unfolded with a dark lacing of offbeat quirkiness and cherry pie fetish. Paving the way forward for shows like The X-Files, Northern Exposure and Lost, there had never been anything quite like Twin Peaks before, and it remains a landmark series of lasting influence. The brainchild of Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues) and surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, it’s also – rather crucially – an acquired taste which will take more time to acclimatise to than most shows. With the former’s realistic, procedural tendencies meshing with the latter’s surrealism, the result proved too odd for casual viewers at the time (many of whom turned off after the third episode’s infamous dream sequence), while others were drawn to its eccentric, off-the-wall sensibilities.
While the thrust of the eight-episode first season revolves around Laura’s murder, there’s much more going on than just that. Part small-town whodunnit, part occult mystery, part melodramatic soap opera (there’s even a soap within the soap called Invitation To Love), it’s perhaps best described as a serious crime drama with supernatural overtones. While some sub-plots are less engaging than others and a few of the clues are little more than red herrings, the genre-hopping blend of bizarre interludes, peculiar characters and oddball moments (such as Cooper coming face-to-face with a llama during a conversation in a vet’s waiting room) often makes for compelling viewing. If, that is, you can wrap your head round it all.
Revealing seedy darkness beneath the veneer of respectability, Twin Peaks might explore distinctly Lynchian territory, but it does so in a way that is far less incomprehensible than normal for the acclaimed filmmaker (you get the feeling that Frost reined him in). As such, it’s perhaps the ideal experience for those who likes aspects of Lynch’s style but dislike his tendency to lob understandable narrative out the window. That said, it boasts a typically dream-like tone and mounting sense of dread, with Angelo Badalamenti’s synthetic score (which consists of four or five recurring themes) imbuing the autumnal setting and small-town charm with a lurking sense of evil. The cast also is filled with recognisable faces (Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer, Lara Flynn Boyle) and actors whose careers never blossomed (Sherilyn Fenn, Mädchen Amick, Sheryl Lee), while Kyle MacLachlan arguably makes the show as the chipper, childishly fastidious FBI agent Dale Cooper.
Paving the way forward for shows like The X-Files, Northern Exposure and Lost, Twin Peaks remains a landmark series of lasting influence. An acquired taste, it’ll prove too odd for casual viewers, while others will adore its eccentric, off-the-wall sensibilities.