Twin Peaks Pilot (1990) dir. David Lynch
Starring: Kyle Maclachlan, Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn
“Diane... another ‘Twin Peaks’ box set arrives in stores. I thought all episodes were available already. Wasn’t the second season just released earlier this year? Oh, I just noticed this Gold Box includes the previously unreleased pilots. I must check it out.“
Ten years before the birth of edgy serialized watercooler television like “the Sopranos” there was “Twin Peaks” - a trailblazing short-lived event TV series from surreal experimentalist David Lynch. Family-friendly network television and David Lynch seemed an unlikely match, but for half a season they were the real ‘must-see TV’. The pilot which aired April 8, 1990, is still one of the finest television moments in my 32 years of boob-tubing.
The series opens with a credit sequence not unlike his 1986 film “Blue Velvet” – serene nature shots of an idyllic northwestern lumber town named “Twin Peaks”. Angelo Badalamenti’s swooning score washing over you like a gentle stream. The opening moments catch Pete Martell (Lynch regular Jack Nance) finding a dead body wrapped in plastic at the side of a river. The girl is revealed to be local beauty queen Laura Palmer. The awkshucks group of inexperienced authorities led by Sheriff Harry S. Truman call in the FBI to help with the investigation. Arriving in town praising the local coffee and cherry pie is the goofy Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan). Goofy as he is, Special Agent Cooper is as thorough as he is peculiar and his attention to detail becomes apparent once he begins the investigation.
The townsfolk are either innocent benevolent naves or scheming and conniving backstabbers. The numerous subplots are as steamy and potboiled as any soap opera. There’s Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) the local landowner looking to takeover the local saw mill. There’s Ray Wise and his wife Sarah who are grief-striken beyond belief over Laura’s death. There’s the high school cliques, all of whom are cheating on their girlfriends or boyfriends with someone else in the town. Teasing forensic clues are dropped on us, such as a half a heart necklace, a hidden diary, a video tape of Laura recorded by an unknown lover, a small letter R torn from a newspaper and placed under Laura’s finger nail. Since it’s a pilot not much is resolved except to throw the puzzle pieces on the table for us to piece together over the course of the show.
Lynch is a master of counterpoint and mixing tones. And like “Blue Velvet” he and co-creator Mark Frost move effortlessly between absurd humour to potent melodrama to uncompromising horror. In the pilot humour and horror are mixed in with a traditional procedural set up giving us the evidence, witnesses, and list of suspects. Lynch also shows us how the news of Laura’s death travels through the community. Two scenes stand out –Leland on the phone with his wife when Sheriff Truman gives him the bad news; and Donna Hayward and James Hurley’s fearful glances with each other in class.
The characters make the show a standout. Some are caricatures such as bad-girl-in-a-school-uniform Audrey Horne, some are extreme wackos such as Ed Hurley’s drapes-obsessed wife, but only a few are actually grounded in reality. And in many ways Sheriff Truman is the anchor. His character is our point of view in this world – he remains calm and straight throughout the entire series. Dale Cooper, though an outsider of the town is as idiosyncratic as the log lady.
As the series moves on, weaknesses become evident after the first 7 episodes, which is where the open-ended American television format fails. Lynch is best at creating moments or individual scenes, and so the series amplifies glaringly Lynch’s limitations with closure. The series should have been completed after 6 or 8 episodes, instead its popularity likely delayed the reveal of Laura’s killer till the second season.
No pun intended, the series peaks somewhere in the first few episodes of Season 2. After Laura Palmer’s murderer is discovered, all parties involved including Lynch himself admits the series went downhill and rightfully got cancelled. But within the sloppy second season there are moments of brilliance. And, really, has there ever been a scarier bad guy in television (or even the movies) than “Bob”?
The influence of Lynch and Frost’s skewed world of absurd characters is seen in many of today’s shows such as “Desperate Housewives”, “Weeds”, and “Ugly Betty”. But this is 2007 and it took over 15 years for television to catch up to this giant leap forward. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition (The Complete Series)