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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Welcome to Twin Peaks - Population 51,201

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition

Unless you were watching Twin Peaks when it first went on the air back in April of 1990, it may be difficult to appreciate both how radically different and phenomenally popular it was. Twin Peaks is arguably the most influential television series of the last few decades but even so, there still isn't anything quite like it on network TV. Back then, it was like a seismic rift had opened. The show looked, sounded and felt unlike anything that had been seen previously. Overnight, the question of who killed Laura Palmer became a national obsession. To the amazement of everyone, the director of Eraserhead and Blue Velvet had entered the mainstream without making a single artistic compromise. To describe this turn of events as being unusual would be a vast understatement.

Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, Twin Peaks remains a dazzling if uneven achievement. For 29 frequently brilliant episodes, we were given a glimpse into the lives of a handful of the 51,201 souls that inhabited this Pacific Northwest lumber town.


(By the way, that network-dictated population is easily the most unbelievable thing about the series. As someone who grew up in a town in the northwest whose population topped out at 30,000, I can assure you there's no way Twin Peaks was home to that many people.)

The series hit the ground running with the two-hour pilot episode, an incredible piece of work that remains one of Lynch's best films. The murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), a homecoming queen who harbored a great many deep, dark secrets, rattles the town to its core. The investigation into Laura's hidden dark side threatens to expose other secrets as well, especially with the arrival of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).

The pilot immediately establishes the mood and atmosphere of Twin Peaks from the very first shot and line of dialogue (delivered, appropriately enough, by Lynch regular Jack Nance as Pete Martell: "The lonesome foghorn blows.") This was a total immersion into a fully-realized world unlike anything that had been seen on television before. The pace was slower, allowing for details to emerge and happy accidents to occur. The performances were vivid and unique with a sprawling cast made up of both interesting newcomers (Lara Flynn Boyle, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn and Madchen Amick, among others) and vets not normally associated with television (MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Richard Beymer, Piper Laurie, Russ Tamblyn and Joan Chen notable among them). In both cases, the actors contributed a look, style and attitude that set the series apart. And no consideration of Twin Peaks can neglect to mention the jazzy, dreamlike score by Angelo Badalamenti. Forget the fact that you'd never heard music like this on television before. For the most part, you'd never heard anything quite like this, period.

For the next seven episodes of its first season, Twin Peaks ranked among the most consistently enjoyable and intriguing TV shows ever produced. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer deepened. Fascinating new characters were introduced like FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) and Laura's cousin Maddy (also played by Sheryl Lee). And as bizarre as aspects of the first two episodes had been, nothing could have prepared us for the conclusion of episode three: Cooper's dream involving a dancing, backwards-talking dwarf (Michael J. Anderson) in a red room. Any illusions that you were just watching a slightly quirky mystery show were shattered with this surreal sequence. Not that television hadn't been scary before. It just hadn't been this uncategorically disturbing before. If you were sitting by an open window at the end of the episode, you could hear the entire country simultaneously ask, "What the hell was that?"

The most commonly held belief seems to be that Twin Peaks burned gloriously for one brief but spectacular season before falling completely apart in its second. This isn't exactly true. In fact, for my money the show really hit its stride in the first half of season two. It was here that the series transitioned from the occasional detour into Lynchian curiosity into full-on gonzo weirdness. Possibly my favorite episode of the entire series is episode 15, where the identity of Laura's killer is fully revealed as he kills again. This is one of the most frightening, intense sequences I've ever seen on television and it's immediately followed by a moment of heartbreaking beauty, as the assembled characters in the roadhouse simultaneously realize something has happened while Julee Cruise sings "The World Spins".

What is true about the second season is that following the resolution of the Laura Palmer case, the show falls into an unfortunate rut where just about every subplot that can go wrong does. Some of them are still somewhat amusing in fits and starts, like Ben Horne's descent into Civil War-obsessed madness and David Duchovny's appearance as DEA Agent Denise Bryson, but every one of them goes on far too long. The worst fate of all befalls James (James Marshall) and Donna. Their story had run its course entirely with the resolution of the Laura Palmer case, so James is sent off into a mundane film noir plot involving a rich woman's scheme to frame him for the murder of her husband.

But the series regained its footing by the conclusion of the second season as Cooper's ex-partner Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) becomes a viable threat. At first, the Windom Earle plot feels equally forced with him simply coming after Cooper for revenge. But by the series finale, we learn that his appearance in Twin Peaks is directly related to Bob, Laura Palmer's killer, and the red room (or, as it's actually called, the Black Lodge). The tension is ratcheted up in these last few episodes, culminating in one last Lynch-directed hour that boasts the longest sustained stretch of uninterrupted weirdness ever seen on network television. It's a frustrating episode for first-time viewers, leaving the audience hanging with multiple unresolved cliffhangers, but one that gets more fascinating and disturbing every time you see it.

The release of Twin Peaks on DVD has been equally frustrating for fans. Artisan's release of the first season was actually quite decent but failed to include the two-hour pilot due to rights issues. It was followed by a long stretch of nothing, forcing fans to wait years before Paramount finally released season two. Finally, the entire series including the pilot has been collected as Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition, a mammoth 10-disc set that's worth the wait. The episodes themselves look and sound quite good, capturing the show's warm look and lush sounds very well. The pilot is presented on the first disc with both the original broadcast version and the version created for theatrical release overseas available. The international version attempts to give the story some sense of closure, primarily through the use of footage from episode 3's dream sequence although Lynch directed additional scenes exclusive to this version. You can watch either version in its entirety or simply view the alternate international ending on its own.

There are those who may argue against the use of the word "definitive" for this package. After all, there are a number of extras from both of the previous DVD releases that have not been ported over, including commentary tracks from the first season and interviews from the second. That's mildly disappointing as it would be nice to have a single set that gathers together all things Peaks but it's tough to argue with the quality of what is here. All of the Log Lady introductions shot by Lynch with Catherine E. Coulson for Bravo are here, as are four deleted scenes and a collection of documents, including call sheets, script notes and the like. The lion's share of the bonuses are reserved for the tenth disc, leading off with A Slice of Lynch, a 30-minute chat over coffee between Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick and post-production coordinator John Wentworth. It's relaxed, stylish and full of antic-dotes of no small amusement. The centerpiece of the disc is Secrets from Another Place, a four-part documentary exploring the making of the show, featuring interviews with over two dozen cast and crew members. The first segment is devoted to the pilot, the second to season one, the third to Angelo Badalamenti's music and the fourth to season two. Inevitably with a documentary covering a project this expansive, there are absent voices that are missed. However, Twin Peaks was a series about mystery that always left you wanting more answers than you got, so it's appropriate that the documentary both satisfies and makes you hungry for more.

The rest of the disc is packed with fun bonuses like a featurette on the annual Twin Peaks Festival, an interactive map that tells you exactly where to find some of the key locations like the Double R Diner and the Great Northern Hotel, two very funny sketches from the Kyle MacLachlan hosted episode of Saturday Night Live, Julee Cruise's music video for the Twin Peaks theme Falling, and enough TV spots, image galleries, promos and commercials to shake a log at. One of my favorites is the inclusion of the recordings from the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Hotline, a 1-900 number for fans from the height of the show's popularity. All in all, this is a great collection of vintage and newly produced material that any fan of the show will delight in for hours.

Twin Peaks was one of a kind, a brilliant and bizarre series that miraculously struck a pop culture chord but was perhaps too artistically uncompromising to survive for long. Creatively, David Lynch and Mark Frost hit a home run, especially while there were still unresolved mysteries to tantalize us with. Commercially, mass audiences tend to think they want and deserve answers, so a series built on a premise that its creators really didn't ever want to resolve was probably doomed from the start. No matter. Whether or not we're ever treated to a return to the world of Twin Peaks, and I tend to think we won't at this point, these 29 episodes were a watershed in American television. There was nothing like it before and there still hasn't been anything quite the same since. It is an endlessly rewatchable series and the Gold Box serves it up in high style. The only thing missing is a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of joe.

Program Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A


Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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