TWIN PEAKS

U.S. Serial Drama

Scheduled to appear as a limited-run, mid-season replacement series on ABC, Twin Peaks attracted considerable critical attention even before its premiere in the spring of 1990. Both the network and national critics aggressively publicized the show as an unprecedented form of television drama, one that promised to defy the established conventions of television narrative while also exploring a tone considerably more sinister than previously seen in the medium. In short, critics promoted the series as a rare example of television "art," a program that publicists predicted would attract a more upscale, sophisticated, and demographically desirable audience to television. Upon its premiere, the series generated even more critical admiration in the press, placed higher than expected in the ratings, and gave Americans the most talked about television enigma since "Who Shot J.R.?"

The "artistic" status of Twin Peaks stemmed from the unique pedigrees of the series' co-creators, writer/producer Mark Frost and writer/director David Lynch. Frost was most known for his work as a writer and story editor for the highly acclaimed Hill Street Blues, where he had mastered the techniques of orchestrating a large ensemble drama in a serial format. Lynch, meanwhile, had fashioned one of Hollywood's more eccentric cinematic careers as the director of the cult favorite Eraserhead (1978), the academy-award winning The Elephant Man (1980), the epic box-office flop Dune (1984), and the perverse art-house hit Blue Velvet (1986). A prominent American "auteur," Lynch was already well known for his oblique narrative strategies, macabre mise-en-scene, and obsessive thematic concerns.

Twin Peaks combined the strengths of both Frost and Lynch, featuring an extended cast of characters occupying a world not far removed from the sinister small town Lynch had explored in Blue Velvet. Ostensibly a murder mystery, the series centered on FBI agent Dale Cooper's investigation of a murder in the northwestern community of Twin Peaks, a town just a few miles from the Canadian border. The victim, high-school prom queen Laura Palmer, is found wrapped in plastic and floating in a lake. Cooper gradually uncovers an ever more baroque network of secrets and mysteries surrounding Laura's death, all of which seem to suggest an unspeakable evil presence in the town. Quickly integrating himself into the melodramatic intrigues of the community, Cooper's search for Laura's murderer eventually leads him to track "Killer Bob," a malleable and apparently supernatural entity inhabiting the deep woods of the Pacific Northwest.

Although the enigma of Laura's killer was pivotal to the series' popularity, so much so that TV Guide featured a forum of popular novelists offering their own solutions to the murder mystery, Twin Peaks as an avowedly "artistic" text was in many ways more about style, tone and detail than narrative. Many viewers were attracted to the series' calculated sense of strangeness, a quality that led Time magazine to dub Lynch as "the czar of bizarre." As in Lynch's other work, Twin Peaks deftly balanced parody, pathos and disturbing expressionism, often mocking the conventions of television melodrama while at the same time defamiliarizing and intensifying them. The entire first hour of the premiere episode, for example, covered only a single plot point, showing the protracted emotional responses of Laura's family and friends as they learned of her death. This slow yet highly overwrought emplotment was apparently considered so disruptive by ABC that the network briefly discussed airing this first hour without commercial interruption (although this too could have been a strategy designed to promote the program as "art"). Throughout the run of the series, the story line accommodated many such directorial set-pieces, stylistic tours-de-force that allowed the "Lynchian" sensibility to make its artistic presence felt most acutely. The brooding synthesizer score and dreamy jazz interludes provided by composer Angelo Badalamenti, who had worked previously with Lynch, also greatly enhanced the series' eerie, bizarre, and melancholy atmosphere.

As the series progressed, its proliferation of sinister enigmas led the viewer deeper into ambiguity and continually frustrated any hope of definitive closure. Appropriately, the first season ended with a cliffhanger that left many of the major characters imperiled, and yet still provided no clear solution to Laura Palmer's murder. Perhaps because of the series' obstinate refusal to move toward a traditional resolution, coupled with its escalating sense of the bizarre, once-high ratings dropped over the course of the series' run. Despite such difficulties, and in the face of a perhaps inevitable critical backlash against the series, ABC renewed the show for a second season, moving it to the Saturday schedule in an effort to attract the program's quality demographics to a night usually abandoned by such audiences. After providing a relatively "definitive" solution to the mystery of Laura's killer early in the second season, the series attempted to introduce new characters and enigmas to reinvigorate the storyline, but the transition from what had essentially been an eight episode mini-series in the first season to an open ended serial in the second had a significant, and many would say negative impact on the show. The series attempted to maintain its sense of mystery and pervasive dread, but having already escalated its narrative stakes into supernatural and extraterrestrial plotlines, individual episodes increasingly had to resort to either absurdist comedy or self-reflexive commentary to sustain an increasingly convoluted storyworld. After juggling the troubled series across its schedule for several months, ABC finally packaged the season's concluding two episodes together as a grand finale, and canceled the series after just 30 total episodes.

Exported in slightly different versions, Twin Peaks proved to be a major hit internationally, especially in Japan. In the United States, the brief but dramatic success of Twin Peaks inspired a cycle of shows that attempted to capitalize on the American public's previously untested affinity for the strange and bizarre. Series as diverse as Northern Exposure (CBS), Picket Fences (CBS), The X-Files (FOX), and American Gothic (CBS) have all been described in journalistic criticism as bearing the influence of Twin Peaks. The series also spawned a devoted and appropriately obsessed fan culture. In keeping with the program's artistic status, fan activity around the show has concentrated on providing ever closer textual readings of the individual episodes, looking for hidden clues that will help clarify the series' rather obtuse narrative logic. This core audience was the primary target of a cinematic "prequel" to the series released in 1993, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Again directed by Lynch, Fire Walk With Me chronicled Laura Palmer's activities on the days just before her death. Freed from some of the constraints of network standards and practices, Lynch's cinematic treatment of Twin Peaks was an even more violent, disturbing, and obsessive reading of the mythical community, and provided an interesting commentary and counter-point to the series as a whole.

-Jeffrey Sconce

CAST

Dale Cooper ........................................Kyle MacLachlan
Sheriff Harry S. Truman ........................Michael Ontkean
Shelly Johnson ...................................Maedchen Amick
Bobby Briggs ........................................Dana Ashbrook
Benjamin Horne ....................................Richard Beymer
Donna Marie Hayward ...........................Lara Flynn Boyle
Audrey Horne
...........................................Sherilyn Fenn
Dr. William Hayward ..................................Warren Frost
Norma Jennings ........................................Peggy Lipton
James Hurley ........................................James Marshall
"Big Ed" Hurley ........................................Everett McGill
Pete Martell ................................................Jack Nance
Leland Palmer............................................... Ray Wise
Catherine Packard Martell ............................Piper Laurie
Montana .....................................................Rick Giolito
Midge Loomer
........................................... Adele Gilbert
Male Parole Board Officer .........................James Craven
Female Parole Board Member #2................ Mary Chalon
Emory Battis ..........................................Don Amendolia
The Dwarf ......................................Michael J. Anderson
Jeffrey Marsh ............................................John Apicella
Ronette Pulaski .................................Phoebe Augustine
Johnny Horne ............................................Robert Bauer
Mrs. Tremond ............................................Frances Bay
Ernie Niles ................................................James Booth
Mayor Dwyane Milford ..................................John Boylan
Richard Tremayne.................................... Ian Buchanan
Blackie O'Reilly .......................................Victoria Catlin
Josie Packard.............................................. Joan Chen
The Log Lady/Margaret................... Catherine E. Coulson
Herself ......................................................Julee Cruise

 


Twin Peaks

Sylvia Horne................................................. Jan D'Arcy
Leo Johnson .................................................Eric DaRe
Maj. Garland Briggs ...................................Don S. Davis
Eileen Hayward .................................Mary Jo Deschanel
DEA Agent Dennis/Denise Bryson ..........David Duchovny
Agent Albert Rosenfield .............................Miguel Ferrer
Deputy Andy Brennan ...................................Harry Goaz
Nancy O'Reilly .............................................Galyn Gorg
Annie Blackburn.................................. Heather Graham
Vivian Smythe ..............................................Jane Greer
Nicolas "Little Nicky" Needleman ...............Joshua Harris
Mike Nelson .......................................Gary Hershberger
Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill .......................Michael Horse
Jerry Horne .......................................David Patrick Kelly
Madeleine Ferguson/Laura Palmer ..................Sheryl Lee
Lana Budding ............................................Robyn Lively
Malcolm Sloan......................................... Nicholas Love
Pierre Tremond Austin .................................Jack Lynch
Agent Gordon Cole .....................................David Lynch
Diane, Cooper's secretary ...........................Carol Lynley
Caroline Powell......................... Earle Brenda E. Mathers
Evelyn Marsh..................................... Annette McCarthy
Hank Jennings .........................................Chris Mulkey
Andrew Packard .......................................Dan O'Herlihy
Jones......................................................Brenda Strong
RCMP Officer Preston King ...................Gavan O'Herlihy
Jaques Renault.................................... Walter Olkewicz
The Giant .............................................Carel Struycken
Jonathan Kumagai .....................................Mak Takano
Jean Renault ...........................................Michael Parks
Lucy Moran ........................................Kimmy Robertson
Janek Pulaski ...............................................Alan Ogle
Doctor Lawrence Jacoby ..........................Russ Tamblyn
Nadine Hurley ...........................................Wendy Robie
Bob............................................................ Frank Silva
Suburbis Pulaski ...............................Michelle Milantoni
Elizabeth Briggs .................................Charlotte Stewart
Harold Smith..................................... Lenny Von Dohlen
Trudy ...................................................Jill Rogosheske
Philip Michael Gerard/Mike/
The One-Armed Man
......................................Al Strobel
Harriet Hayward ................................Jessica Wallenfells
Bartender ......................................................Kim Lentz
Thomas Eckhardt..................................... David Warner
Swabbie .............................................Charlie Spradling
Windom Earle ........................................Kenneth Welsh
Joey Paulson............................................. Brett Vadset
Bernard Renault.......................................... Clay Wilcox
Emerald/Jade ........................................Erika Anderson
Roger Hardy....................................Clarence Williams III
Chet ..........................................................Lance Davis
Mrs. Tremond ...........................................Mae Williams
Jared Peter............................................. Michael Goetz
The Room-Service Waiter......................... Hank Worden
Tojamura ...........................................Fumio Yamaguchi
Sarah Palmer ........................................Grace Zabriskie
John Justice Wheeler ....................................Billy Zane
Gwen Morton...................................... Kathleen Wilhoite
Female Parole Board Member #1 ..........Mary Bond Davis
Einar Thorson ............................................Brian Straub
Heba ..........................................................Mary Stavin
Theodora Ridgely ...........................................Eve Brent
Jenny Lisa Ann Cabasa
Decker Charles Hoyes
Tim Pinkle David L. Lander
Gersten Hayward Alicia Witt
Mr. Neff Mark Lowenthal
Eolani Jacoby Jennifer Aquino

PRODUCERS David Lynch, Mark Frost, Gregg Fienberg, David J. Latt, Harley Peyton

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 30 Episodes

ABC
8 April 1990                                       Sunday 9:00-11:00
April 1990-May 1990                        Thursday 9:00-10:00
August 1990-February 1991            Saturday 10:00-11:00
March 1991-April 1991                     Thursday 9:00-10:00
10 June 1991                                    Monday 9:00-11:00

FURTHER READING

Carrion, Maria M. "Twin Peaks and the Circular Ruins of Fiction: Figuring (Out) the Acts of Reading." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Carroll, Michael. "Agent Cooper's Errand in the Wilderness: Twin Peaks and American Mythology." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Davenport, Randi. "The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Deutsch, Helen. "'Is it Easier to Believe?' Narrative Innocence from Clarissa to Twin Peaks." Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory (Tucson, Arizona), 1993.

Giffone, Tony. "Twin Peaks as Post-Modernist Parody: David Lynch's Subversion of the British Detective Narrative." The Mid-Atlantic Almanac: The Journal of the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association (Greencastle, Pennsylvania), 1992.

Horne, Philip. "Henry Hill and Laura Palmer." London Review of Books, 20 December 1990.

Huskey, Melynda. "Twin Peaks: Rewriting the Sensation Novel." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Kimball, Samuel. "'Into the Light, Leland, Into the Light': Emerson, Oedipus, and the Blindness of Male Desire in David Lynch's Twin Peaks." Genders (Austin, Texas), 1993.

Lavery, David, Editor. "Peaked Out." Special Issue, Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Ledwon, Lenora. "Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Nickerson, Catherine. "Serial Detection and Serial Killers in Twin Peaks." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Nochimson, Martha. "Desire Under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks." Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), 1992.

Pollard, Scott. "Cooper, Details, and the Patriotic Mission of Twin Peaks." Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), 1993.

Shoos, Diane, Diana George, and Joseph Comprone. "Twin Peaks and the Look of Television: Visual Literacy in the Writing Classroom." Journal of Advanced Composition (Moscow, Idaho) Fall, 1993.

Stevenson, Diane. "Family Romance, Family Violence: David Lynch's Twin Peaks." Boulevard (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), Spring 1993.

Zaniello, Tom. "Hitched or Lynched: Who Directed Twin Peaks?" Studies in Popular Culture (Louisville, Kentucky), October, 1994.

 

See also Movie Professionals and Television