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Friday, October 28, 2011

Five Reasons We Still Love Twin Peaks

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 1:00 PM

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In 30 episodes, Twin Peaks established an indelible place in the history of television storytelling. Having aired for just more than one year (April 1990 to June 1991), the series built an instant and adoring viewership who turned it into a full-blown phenomenon that included book and music releases, magazines, fan clubs, and weekly viewing parties. Rarely do television programs age so well, but the murder of Laura Palmer and the ensuing investigation led by Special Agent Dale Cooper of the FBI and Sheriff Harry S. Truman continue to sustain an audience and gain new fans.

To mark the 20 years since the show's cancellation, the Roxie Theater hosts an anniversary celebration Saturday that includes screenings of Otto Preminger's Laura (a source of inspiration for Twin Peaks' premise), the series pilot, and the prequel feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Here are five reasons the series, for us, will never die.

Characters

Twin Peaks' ever-revolving gallery of eccentrics, weirdos, criminals, otherworldly visitors, and doped-up teenagers was mimicked by later programs, including Picket Fences, Northern Exposure, and The X-Files. But none of them ever quite matched the magic of Twin Peaks' oddballs and freaks. These include the crisp, chipper focus of Kyle MacLachlan's Special Agent Dale Cooper -- we'll never forget his big smile, thumbs-up, and exclamation of "Aces!" -- and it's way too cool that much of this character was modeled by the actor on series creator David Lynch. Next was the unbelievably sexy bobby sock- and saddle shoe-clad Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the socially maladapted Log Lady (Catherine Coulson), the spastic hipster foodie Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelley), and the robust trucker turned drooling brain-damagee Leo Johnson (Eric DaRe). (We still have nightmares about post-accident Leo shouting "New shoes!" without warning.) Still, for us the performance of the series is that of Ray Wise as Leland Palmer, father of murder victim Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose role requires him to go from grief-stricken dad to white-haired singing lunatic to raging embodiment of pure evil, all of which Wise accomplishes with utterly astonishing conviction.

Donna, Audrey, and Shelly (left to right)
  • Donna, Audrey, and Shelly (left to right)

Mood

Twin Peaks is extremely cozy and very scary, and the successful combination of these two elements results in a tone and feeling that we've not seen in any other television show or movie. The woodsy look and small-town closeness of the characters invite us into Twin Peaks like the enticing scent of freshly baked bread, while the constant, unpredictable threat of the murderous BOB and the mysterious, vague powers that creep in the woods coalesce, as we watch, into unmistakable dread.

Music

The score by Angelo Badalamenti (with contributions from Lynch) contributed to the show's mood and is a huge factor. But more than that, it's the richest body of music ever composed for a television series. The wide-ranging but cohesive sound of the show encompasses dreamy synth/acoustic orchestral pieces, '50s-tinged rock, roadhouse blues, torchy ballads, creepy jazz, and mournful dirges. At the forefront of this is Julee Cruise, whose photo probably appears in most dictionaries next to the word "haunting." The two albums released so far -- and even the score of the feature film -- contain absolutely essential music, something that I don't think can be said of any other television show.

Coffee and Pie

Who doesn't want to watch a show that implicitly encourages you to prepare coffee and pie before sitting down to watch it? Coffee-lover Special Agent Cooper was savoring the Double R's joe long before Starbucks took over the world. And nothing paired better with that coffee than the Double R's homemade cherry pie. Coffee and pie became recurring characters on the show, adding much to the aforementioned coziness.

Laura Palmer

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You could say that she belongs under "Characters," but Laura Palmer is more than that. She's an American myth-explosion of enormous magnitude. She's a homecoming queen and a whore, her mother's daughter and her father's concubine. She's a beautiful, hateful, loving, fucked-up, drug-addicted, middle-America teen. The first time we see her she's wrapped in plastic on a rocky beach, her luminous skin gone gray with death, blonde hair streaked with grit. The closing credits for each episode scroll over an image of the town's high school trophy case, the nucleus of which is her radiant homecoming portrait -- a perfect visual metaphor for the series as a whole.

Or, as Lynch himself puts it, her murder "was a beautiful little goose. And the little goose is laying golden eggs. Now why would you kill that goose? It is a huge sadness, and an absurdity, that that ever happened." And indeed, after Laura's killer was identified in episode nine of the second season, the show quickly slid downhill.

The Twin Peaks 20th Anniversary Triple Feature starts at 7 p.m. at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia), S.F. Admission is $15.

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