Television

A Return to Twin Peaks: David Lynch is Back.

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After the 27 year hiatus, many of us returned home again on Sunday night as Twin Peaks returned to our television sets. The two hour series premier featured a lot of content and played upon various emotions that left us all withering for more. There sure as hell was a lot to take in, especially if you stayed awake until 4am in the UK like I did. It was however, all worth it in the end. David Lynch and Mark Frost presented us with a spectacle, unlike anything currently on television. They essentially took the reins and schooled every other television show in history. This is how you do horror. This is how you do mystery. This is how you toy with the emotions of your audience when you pick up exactly where you left off 27 years ago.

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After starting with the familiar scene from the last episode in 1991, we are thrown again into the red room with Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper. Only this time when we see Coop, there are no prosthetics or make-up in place to make him look older. He is older, almost exactly as predicted from the earlier seasons. We then transfer to a black and white filter as Agent Cooper is addressed by the giant, once again played by the iconic Carel Struycken. The weirdness is most definitely happening again.

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Following this scene we are placed in an empty hallway in Twin Peaks high school, as the camera makes its way toward the trophy cabinet and focuses on that picture of the poster girl. The girl that started it all: Laura Palmer. The green font appears on our screens once again and those notes ring out exactly the way they did all these years ago. The same theme conducted by the brilliant Angelo Badalamenti is layered over a new title sequence filmed in glorious HD. Shots of those Douglas Fir trees and the waterfall next to the Great northern Hotel resonate with the audience. However a main importance of the new title sequence is the inclusion of the Red Room. The red drapes and zig-zag floor cements the role of the Black Lodge into the world of Twin Peaks, foreshadowing that the next 18 hours of content will indeed be both wonderful and strange.

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So what has changed? The most immediate difference we see as a returning viewer is the image. Almost entirely gone are those warm 50’s style tones and soap-esque lighting. Instead, we are introduced to a bizarre case of modernity. It looks so new! We are subjected to the crisp world of high quality digital camera work. After watching Lynch’s last project ‘Inland Empire’, which was shot entirely in standard definition, I was sceptical of the fact that Lynch would not use HD and maybe film the new season similarly to ‘Inland Empire’. Once again he surprises me and most likely many others.

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The concept of image does take a key central role in this new season. We see what we have seen previously in terms of characters and scenery, yet something always feels different. Old and familiar characters begin to appear, mostly wearing similar outfits, yet they look much older. This is of course inevitability, there is no masking the process of aging, yet David Lynch and Mark Frost use this to their complete advantage. The appearance of the familiar characters plays with the viewer’s emotions ranging from nostalgia to sadness. Everyone looks the same but different would be a sweeping way to summarise and this pretty much what can be said for the entire feel of this new season. More than a direct sequel to the original two seasons, it definitely feels more closely related to ‘Fire Walk With Me’, the feature length prequel. In essence, it feels more Lynchian.

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As well as the re-introduction to old characters, there are a whole load of fresh faces as this is not solely based within the fictional logging town of Twin Peaks. Arrays of stars appear, most of who have worked with David Lynch previously in his other works. If you’re a Lynch fan, you will most likely be shouting at the screen ‘Oh it’s that guy’ and trying to picture where you have seen the person before. Again, this furthers the dynamic of familiarity that this season has managed to foreground. A personal favourite of mine is a brilliant performance from Matthew Lillard who is caught up in a messy situation involving a murder.

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The location of the first two episodes switches from Twin Peaks, New York, Las Vegas and South Dakota. We cannot help but try to interlink the locations into one storyline, but as of yet, the storyline is typically non-linear and realistically would be a waste of time to try and interlink it until we have the full picture in front of us. The way the story is told in this season is totally unlike anything else on TV. It is incomparable. Therefore, I don’t see the point in analysing the potential theories at this point, because they will most likely be so very wrong.

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Another aspect of the show that adds to the unease is the pacing. A lot of these scenes are slow and atmospheric. It is much more of a feeling than it is a typical linear show. There are a lot of camera tracking shots or long uneasy silences between dialogues. Again, this is typical of David Lynch. The building of tension once again plays with our emotions and strays from the conventions of what viewers would consider ‘normal’.

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Compensating the long unsettling silences and uneasy pacing is spectacular sound design curated by David Lynch himself. It differs from what we are used to once again. There is a complete lack of jazz music which is notable from the conventions of the original two seasons. Instead, there are low rumbles similar to those in Eraserhead, low industrial rumblings again adding to the build of tension.

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In essence, Twin Peaks is back, but not as we all know it. It is different. It does not aim to appease fans and rightly so. It aims to break boundaries. It could be considered as David Lynch’s Magnum Opus and gives a nod to his past works as they echo throughout the styles and themes of the show. Where it will go from here remains a mystery, perhaps the ultimate drama mystery that audiences have ever seen and are likely to ever see. It is very much what David Lynch wants and therefore it is exactly what true fans of Twin Peaks have been longing for.

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Twin Peaks: A Cultural Phenomenon (Part 2)

Hi all,

Just a quick apology to those waiting on Part 2. I’ve had a busy couple of weeks and simply have not gotten around to posting this. Anyway, my apologies and I hope you enjoy this post. 

Thanks again.

gordon

Gordon?

The ‘need to know’ among viewers drove the show into a second season due the lack of conclusion and clarity over the death of Laura Palmer, this time, for a lengthy 22 episodes. More episodes mean more directors and the need for a bigger crew. Many consider this to play a fundamental part to the show’s downfall. David Lynch and Mark Frost became less involved with Twin Peaks and other directors took the helm. Week after week passed and ratings dropped with the investigation into the main plot still no closer to a conclusion.

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Attention spans were drifting and so ABC wanted answers. Head of ABC at the time Bob Iger demanded that Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed mid-way through the season. This was everything that both David Lynch and Mark Frost did not want. Lynch has been quoted saying that the show was like a goose that laid golden eggs. What ABC did when they pressured them into revealing Laura Palmer’s killer was cut the head off of that goose. It’s a great analogy and truly does put into perspective just what the network did to the show.

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Iger, our fate is in your hands.

Once Laura’s killer had been revealed, many viewers dropped off from the show. This was most likely due to the sense of closure that the episode gave to the ongoing mystery. It did make way for a new plot, with new characters, but it did not have the same aura around it that it did for the first season. This was also impacted by the change of scheduling. The show was moved from a Thursday night broadcast, to all different times. Interest dropped off pretty quickly after that and many, myself included, consider Bob Iger’s decision to be the hands down worst decision that anyone in the TV business has ever made.

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So what happened to Iger after that? Destroying a cultural phenomenon that many loved surely would lead to a decline for this guy? Surely he would be left out of more executive decisions because he doesn’t understand both the text and the audience? Nope. Iger is now currently the C.E.O of Disney, yep, Disney. So this man now holds the fate of Star Wars, Marvel and all other cult favourites. Although they are not really cults anymore are they? They are the face of popular culture. Merchandising of these products makes it almost impossible to avoid the gaze of the Disney eye. So realistically, don’t hold your breath for the next Star Wars installment as it might signal the end of the franchise we all know and love.

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Who knows what this will hold…

The blame for the show’s demise can be spread throughout impatient audiences, irrational network bosses, drifting storylines and confusing scheduling. It can be summarised in the simplest of terms that TV was simply not ready for a show like Twin Peaks. However, lessons were learnt. The introduction of HBO meant a whole new platform for TV in the shape of big budgets and larger than life shows. With the introduction of HBO, audiences were introduced to the concept of ‘quality TV’. From the demise of Twin Peaks, came The Sopranos, Sex in the City and The Wire to name a few of the network’s successful shows. These helped shape TV as we know and love today.

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Possibly the greatest show to emerge from the cancellation of Twin Peaks.

In essence, Twin Peaks took one for the team. Since being cancelled, the fanbase has grown and there is still an annual festival held in which cast members and fans from around the world can revel in the world of Twin Peaks. Sort of like a comic con specifically for Twin Peaks. It is now seen as a prestigious landmark in the history of television.

So, twenty five years after the series ended on a dramatic cliff-hanger, Twin Peaks has had the greenlight for a third season. This is the longest gap between seasons ever in a show’s history, allowing the show to continue to break records. Who knows what boundaries the third season will break? Maybe the show will expand its fan-base even more and lead to more content, either in the form of television or even film. Either way it is gratifying to see a show get the recognition it deserves, especially after the original broadcast being so long ago.

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Season three poster

Prior to the new season, Mark Frost has released a novel; ‘The Secret History of Twin Peaks’ allowing keen fans of the show to delve into a hidden past of the fictional town that the show never really dipped into (with the exception of the lack lodge). Frost has also announced that he is planning on releasing another novel after the show’s final episode is broadcast. ‘Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier’ will most likely give viewers the conclusion to the show that they have waited patiently for.

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‘The Secret History’ 

Something tells me that this will not be the last we will see of Agent Cooper and Twin Peaks. Its legend will not be forgotten and I predict that fans will simply refuse to let the series die. There is a whole world of possibility to be explored, both mysterious and strange.

Twin Peaks: A Cultural Phenomenon (Part 1)

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With the return of the hit TV show Twin Peaks bordering on the horizon, I would imagine there are people around the globe questioning ‘What on Earth is Twin Peaks and why is it coming back after so long?’ I would also imagine that most of these people are fans of popular TV shows in what we brand ‘The golden age of quality TV’, and are younger members of the audience (under 25).  Like any cultural movement, there has to be an originator, something that breaks the mould and influences others to follow suit. In the case of series based television, Twin Peaks is that originator.

There is a strong argument that Twin Peaks changed the way that we, as an audience, consume television content. The effect that it had on audiences and Television networks alike turned TV into a medium for quality art entertainment. The question is how? What was so special about it?

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The truth is there are a fair few reasons for the phenomenon of Twin Peaks. Think of when two planets align and it creates an effect that can only be seen once every blue moon (excuse the expression). So let’s provide some context into TV in the early 90’s. TV as a medium has now been around for a good 30/40 years depending on how rich your family was. Most of that time had seen television shows expanding from your average soap opera into more episodic and high budget drama. By the time the 1980’s came around, more and more people began to take a keen interest in TV over other visual entertainment such as cinema and theatre. It’s merely a combination of accessibility and trend. Everyone wanted to watch the same thing as their friends or colleagues at work.

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So by the late 1980’s after all the great pop music and weird fashion trends, we have seen TV evolve from soap to drama. Popular shows such as The A-Team, Miami Vice and Night Rider often reflected trends and popularity of the public eye. They presented viewers with a catalogue of culture that they could pick and choose to associate themselves with. Also at this time, music and its various subcultures were still very much a main inspiration to people’s sense of self identity (New Romantic, Goth, New Wave etc…) So TV still had a long way to go to get to the forefront of modern culture.

Enter Mark Frost and David Lynch. By the late 1980’s, the pair were introduced to each other and asked to come up with a new television show for ABC. David Lynch had just come off the back of success in Hollywood with Blue Velvet. So how does renown, Oscar nominated director go about writing for the small screen? At the time, this was completely unheard of. Many of this calibre would consider it a demotion. So this is completely new territory for both David Lynch and the medium of TV itself. Mark Frost had previously been recognised within the world of Television with Hill Street Blues, but collaborating with such an avant-garde, non-linear director such as David Lynch must have been a scenario he did not see himself getting into.

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David Lynch & Mark Frost

The pair started writing the pilot episode and it got backing for production, thus Twin Peaks was born.  A mystery drama revolving around the fictitious murder of high school prom queen Laura Palmer, set in a small, friendly town in which the tragedy would resonate deeply with its inhabitants. The show included many traits of David Lynch, from the eerie surrealism and melodrama to the extensive use of music scored by Angelo Badalamenti. The pilot episode aired and TV was never the same again.

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The face of a bizarre mystery

The show’s pilot was much better received in ratings than the network or anyone else would have expected, allowing Twin Peaks to be green-lit for seven episodes. Week after week, viewers tuned in to decode the mystery behind Laura Palmer’s death. Audiences became investigators, similar to the shows main protagonist Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by frequent Lynch collaborator Kyle MacLachlan. The element of surrealism within the show gripped audiences and made them question exactly what they were watching, maybe more than they ever had for any other television show. ‘The Red Room’ in which we see a dancing, backwards talking dwarf confused and shocked viewers to the point that they simply had to tune in next week to gain some clarity on what the hell they just watched.

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But the mystery of each episode did not finish with the end of the episode. In fact it grew larger. This was aided by the scheduling, broadcast on a Thursday night meant viewers would go into work the next day and chat to colleagues about it around any communal area such as the watercooler or coffee machine. The show cemented this as an aesthetic for TV shows for years to come. It got audiences talking about TV in a way that they had ever engaged with the medium before. Twin Peaks allowed so much conversation and discussion as it was shrouded in secrets. Each character had a mysterious story or background that intrigued everyone watching.

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Lucy & Agent Cooper discuss the latest episode

Week after week these mysteries got deeper. The show was not one linear story, yet a web of strange and fascinating storylines that gripped viewers.  It was in a way similar to the average soap operas seen around that time, only with a lot more depth, mystery and general quality of writing. The surrealism propelled the show, as certain storylines crossed with each other and it became an often bizarre string of coincidences. As I write this paragraph, I am writing it exactly 27 years to the day of the original broadcast of the pilot. A perfect example of how the world of Twin Peaks works a surreal string of coincidences or ‘happy accidents’ as David Lynch calls them.

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These ‘happy accidents’ allow that sense of surrealism to project and often shock or surprise audiences. The show is loaded with them, especially in the episodes that Lynch was involved with. They have been a trademark in his work, embracing moments of spontaneity that simply could not be recreated. The alpaca moment is a perfect example of this.

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Though the main reason that viewers maintained interest was the way in which the show never wanted to reveal its secrets, and if it did then it took its time. But it’s not necessarily the reveal that generates, more the ‘need to know’. This is eventually what led to the show’s demise, but while it kept that ethos, people were hooked. The question of ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’ was being asked by everyone. It created a phenomenon. People were engaging with the show on a completely different level. Dale Cooper’s extensive love for ‘damn fine coffee’ and cherry pie had viewers everywhere consuming copious amounts. Some diners in the U.S even ran Twin Peaks inspired sales on coffee and cherry pie to cash in on the show’s influence.

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