Twin Peaks is now far-and-away the project most synonymous with the four-decade-plus art career of the delightfully mad, possible-alien David Lynch. The watershed show, about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the local homecoming queen, had managed a few impressive feats for television at the time before anybody even got the chance to fall in love with it.
Lynch and regular television writer Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues) managed to secure a primetime slot with ABC to air their debuting project, a move which we’ll get into the many ins-and-outs of momentarily. First, it’s important to address the significance of a major feature director wading into the waters of TV production.
Nowadays, the lines between TV and film are a little more blurred. These mediums can afford to take on the same themes and topics, often executed with fairly similar budgets. It really is just a case of which format you favour.
Back in 1990, however, (and here we go back to that time slot) this was not at all the case. Twin Peaks would compete with more traditional viewing on major networks, running directly against established mainstream behemoths like Cheers and Seinfeld over on NBC.
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Again, in 2020, that would be a horses for courses situation, right? Not too out of place, just watch what you want to. Streaming services and VOD have slightly subdued low viewing figures necessarily meaning cancellation. The one thing that’s remained the same is that thirty years ago there was no competition either… rather, a total landslide in favour of those tried and tested lighter forms of entertainment. But, all in good time. Just because we’re discussing Lynch doesn’t mean we’re going to start flitting around in a non-sequential and dreamlike manor. Let’s start at the beginning.
Even initially, the goalposts were being moved. The pilot would air on a different day to what would become the regular slot (a Thursday) and that didn’t help establish the show, nor particularly endear it to audiences. Twin Peaks was an abberation from the start. Sure, it brandished small-town charm in a way that must’ve been appealing on the surface, but when you got to grips with why this imagery was used (in creating an appetising veneer above a certain, ever-creeping dread) it was already far too late for you and your expectations.
Frost and Lynch deliberately did nothing to soften the edges of the exact thing they wanted to make… essentially a Trojan horse of a programme. Well, the problem with being a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that eventually, people start to treat you like one.
By the second, much-longer season the pressure was well and truly on. Those that felt tricked had abandoned ship long ago, and ever-dwindling interest demanded that something give. A sure-fire ratings boost was pitched to the co-creators, in the form of the killer’s reveal. This has been talked about ad-nauseum so we won’t dwell on what would’ve become of the project sans interference… but it’s interesting to note for where we head next.
ABC got their wish. The monkey paw curled, and with the last shreds of common intrigue doused, the show was promptly cancelled. Well, fuck. Not only are we not ready to bridge that gap between auteur direction and television generally, but Twin Peaks itself just got euthanised. How could the story possibly continue from here?
Lynch had been burned on a similar issue once before; where he was not allowed final cut on his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Still stinging, he’d be damned to let another production company stand in the way of his vision once again. Returning to the medium that made him, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a feature-length movie that shows off some truly bizarre decision making. For a start, it’s a prequel, and absolutely no one was clamouring for that. A few primary re-castings, comparatively hollow new characters and a different slant on the town’s lore made for the least satisfying final word available to the few faithful that kept the show buzzworthy during it’s run. In fact, it’s fair to say that at the time of release most of those fans hated it. Not only did Twin Peaks not translate well to film in a narrative sense, it also wasn’t exactly a box office smash either, making less than half of the 10 million dollar budget back domestically. Ouch.
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The whole endeavour could have very easily become a forgotten property from here… relegated to internet-corner discussions forever, in the same vein as absolutely anything with bags of potential and inadequate delivery to match. The cult show of cult shows, a shimmering hypothetical at best. We’ve barely touched on the content itself, but it’s safe to say it did enough during its brief run to warrant repeat returns. Twin Peaks fans are some of the most dedicated fans, and with good reason… we can talk all day about how objectively pioneering it was, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it good outright.
The execution of the ideas brought to the table was the difference-maker. The filmic elements would have served as one thing alone… a sort of tally on the pros column if the bar was that low. It’s the way in which they come to serve everything else going on in the tapestry of the unfolding story that was the key to true longevity. Purposeful utilisation, as opposed to just flash for flash’s sake. If we uncovered one thing here, it’s exactly how “by design” everything was intended to be. For all of the reasons mentioned above… the love affair with that strange old town in the Pacific Northwest was far from over for David Lynch and Mark Frost. Things had to be done the right way. “I’ll See You Again in 25 Years.”
Twin Peaks celebrates its 30th anniversary on 8th April 2020. Check out the rest of our Twin Peaks @ 30 coverage, with more coming soon.