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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.

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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.

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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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A Return to Twin Peaks

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“I’ll see you again in 25 years.” Said a backwards talking Laura Palmer to a confused looking Dale Cooper in 1991. Only one person would have the dedication to infuse the diegetic with the non-diegetic over a literal quarter of a decade time span. In other words, David Lynch’s cult TV show ‘Twin Peaks’ is coming back to screens this May 21st on Showtime (Sky Atlantic in the UK) after a lengthy 25 year absence.

After the longest cliff-hanger in television history, many of the original cast are returning for the 18 episode season, with new additions to the inhabitants of the bizarre Washington town including David Lynch favorites Laura Dern and Naomi Watts as well as Jim Belushi and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It is not only the cast making a long awaited return, Co-Writer Mark Frost is back to contribute as well as legendary David Lynch counterpart Angelo Badalamenti recreating that soundtrack we all love (cue jazz drums).

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So, everything seems to be pointing in the right direction for an epic revival into one of the most important TV shows ever to grace our screens. With the current demand for new, exciting and binge worthy shows to watch at our disposal, it only seems fitting that we pay homage to one of the shows that started it all and made us so addicted to our TV drama. Due to audience ratings the show was originally dropped and David Lynch had to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer half way through the second series because of declining figures. Maybe it was a case of wrong place at the wrong time for the show, but the impact it had on those that engaged with it paved the way for many of the episodic TV shows that we know and love today.

For those that watched first time round and everyone else that has watched it in the past 25 years, answers are most definitely needed (especially after THAT finale). In typical Lynchian fashion, many questions may be answered only to be replaced with new ones! In regards to the main plot, it has been kept a secret with the only information we have being that the newest series is a direct follow on from the previous season. It will be interesting to see what has become of F.B.I Agent Dale Cooper; did he eventually settle into his reasonably priced property? What about Bob? Where did he go? Hopefully all will become clear (or cloudy, it is David Lynch).

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With such a strong line-up, especially with Lynch in the driving seat, it is set to be a success and could prove to be a pivotal moment for television in 2017. If you haven’t experienced the wonders the world of Twin Peaks has to offer, then it is strongly recommended you catch up! For those of us that have waited for this return then get yourself a couple slices of that cherry pie and load up on some damn fine coffee before re-visiting those beautiful Douglas Firs!

With the release date edging closer, expect a few more Twin Peaks themed articles with an episode by episode review after each broadcast. In the mean time, amaze yourself with how well the cast has aged judging from these magazine covers!