US serial murder-melodrama directed by David Lynch running from April 1990 to June 1991 on ABC. Twin Peaks garnered great critical and commercial reception upon its debut in 1990. Audiences responded well to the show's sinister sensibility and its melodramatic edge. The debut deftly balanced parody, pathos, and expressionism as it defied the established conventions of television narrative. But David Lynch, who directed the enormously successful Blue Velvet in 1986, endowed this cinematic experiment with commercial appeal by grounding the series within the familiar structures of soap-opera melodrama.
Combining the strengths of writer-producer Mark Frost and writer-director David Lynch, Twin Peaks was the unique product of creative collaboration. Frost earned network credibility by way of his capacity as writer and story-editor for the highly acclaimed Hill Street Blues (1981-1987) an NBC police procedural/melodrama. Set in a densely populated urban workplace, and distinctly Dickensian in terms of character and plot development, Hill Street Blues displayed Frost's masterful orchestration of a large ensemble drama within a strucutured serial format and his keen understanding of cast and set management.
David Lynch, a prominent cinematic provocateur, had achieved his status on the basis of three critically celebrated and commercially valuable films: Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), and Blue Velvet (1986). In his invaluable edition A Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975-1994), David Thomson praises the manner in which Lynch "kept surrealism, hallucination, and 'experiment' in perfect balance with Americana, a simple compelling storyline, and the huge, gravitational force of a voyeuristic setup". Indeed all of these stylistic elements contributed to the superb filmcraft at work in Twin Peaks.
Network Of Secrets
Twin Peaks focuses 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. Wrapped in plastic, high school prom queen Laura Palmer is found floating in the lake. Cooper assimilates within the community fiber to uncover a densely complex network of secrets. "Killer Bob", an apparently supernatural entity inhabiting the forests of the Pacific Northwest, emerges as the source of Laura's murder.
In these first episodes of Twin Peaks, David Lynch exhibits his ability to create a body of work embodying the tropes of melodrama while defamiliarizing and deconstructing them. The premier episode, enriched by the brooding synthesizer score and dreamy jazz interludes of composer Angelo Badalamenti, centers on nothing more narrative than the extended emotional responses of the victim's survivors. The chamber drama scenario, while at home in any daytime melodrama, is deflated by a macabre, negative energy that would be entirely unwelcome anywhere outside of this series circa 1990. ABC, in an unheralled move for network television, colluded with the artistic currents at work in Twin Peaks by broadcasting this emotional debut without the interference of commercials in certain markets.
The Absense of Closure
While David Lynch drew viewers deeper into a labyrinth of red herrings and blind alleys, and further from any semblance of closure in the traditional sense of the word, network managers -- and the audiences they seek to represent -- were becoming frustrated with the show's studied ambiguity. In spite of these issues, the presence of a strong cult following and a small but dedicated group of devotees at ABC inspired the network to renew Twin Peaks for a second season.
But in light of the negative reaction to the increasingly avant-garde pretentions of the series, ABC proposed two actions in order to ensure the sustainability of Twin Peaks: they transplanted the series to a new slot on the Saturday evening schedule (10 - 11 pm) where they hoped to capture a larger viewership; they called for the writers to provide a relatively "definitive" solution to the mystery of Laura's killer early within the second series; and they
vouched for the introduction of a host of new characters and enigmas to reinvigorate the story line.
Each of these network-induced actions contributed to the downfall of the series both in terms of commercial sustainability and critical success. Audiences were initially drawn to Twin Peaks on the basis of their empathy with the victim and the tension surrounding the hunt for a killer: the absense of these two narrative devices was off-putting. Additionally, the crucial college audience dwindled because students tend to spend Saturday night out or prefer to watch celebrity comedy fare.
The transition from a cohesive eight-episode miniseries in the first season to an open-ended serial drama in the second also undermined the narrative force of the show. In the interest of preserving the sense of mystery and pervasive dread at the heart of Twin Peaks, and having exhausted the battery of supernatural and extraterrestrial motifs, staff writers turned to absurdist humor and meta-commentary, i.e. episodes about episodes, dreams within dreams. These efforts were futile. ABC packaged its final two episodes together as a grand finale, and cancelled the series after a total of 30 episodes.
In the words of David Thomson: "There is a genius in Lynch that may have been lucky to get its one moment."
Angelo "Bad Angel" Badalamenti created the following compositions, instrumental except where noted: Twin Peaks Theme; Laura Palmer's Theme; Audrey's Dance; The Nightingale (voc); Freshly Squeezed; The Bookhouse Boys; Into the Night (voc); Night Life In Twin Peaks; Dance of the Dream Man; Love Theme from Twin Peaks; Falling (voc). Lyrics by David Lynch, vocals by Julee Cruise.
The Twin Peaks first season has been made available in a marvelous DVD ($40) edition from Artisan Entertainment, which includes digitally remastered high-definition full-frame transfers and DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 representations of Angelo Badalamenti's dreamy score. Commentary tracks provide critical insights and are usually done by the episode's director or writer, or with other crew members. The pilot episode (sold separately) cannot be purchased within the United States, but can be imported from the UK on Amazon.
Note on Locations:
The fictional community of Twin Peaks should not be confused with the San Francisco neighborhood and hills (just under 1000 feet) of the same name. The series was filmed near Snoqualmie, Washington.
Comprehensive Episode Guide and Cast List:
Newcomb, Horace. Encyclopedia of Television. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.
Thomson, David. A Biographical Dictionary Of Film. New York: Knopf, 1995.