There's a lot to unpack in this week's news that, 25 years after its demise, the groundbreaking dreamscape of "Twin Peaks" will be returning in 2016 as a nine-episode mini-series on Showtime. In this one news nugget, there's so many conclusions to be drawn about how much TV has changed in the last quarter century, what the medium is like now, and what viewers can and do expect from TV dramas these days. So pour yourself some damn fine coffee, dig into a slice of pie, and read on.
1. The medium to which the series is returning is one that "Twin Peaks" itself profoundly changed. For viewers too young to remember, it's hard to convey just how weird and wonderful "Twin Peaks" seemed when it appeared on network TV in 1990. On the surface, it seemed a pop-savvy blend of some favorite genres (murder mystery, nighttime soap, 1950s-style teen melodrama), but it unfurled with a matter-of-fact mixture of the natural and the supernatural, a dreamlike tone and pace, an almost unbearably raw display of emotion, and enough random bizarre touches (the Log Lady, the backward-talking Man From Another Place, the fish in the coffeepot) to keep viewers perpetually unmoored. Most of all, what David Lynch had brought to TV was the notion that even network shows could be like the movies, with a broad sweep, lofty ambition, beautifully composed imagery, and an art-house sensibility (including an art-house refusal to explain itself completely or tie up all loose ends).
Its cancellation after just two seasons suggested that TV viewers at the time weren't ready for all that artiness, but the show's influence was immediate and pervasive. Shows like "Northern Exposure," "Picket Fences," and "The X-Files" seemed to lift its setting and characters, as well as its sense that the characters were prepared to roll with anything that might happen, however inexplicable. Later dramas like "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," and "Mad Men" echoed its penchant for surreal dream sequences, while other dramas, from "Lost" to "True Blood," echoed its casual mixture of science and magic. But even more, all these shows echoed the 1990-91 drama's grand cinematic ambition. These days, we've practically come to expect our most acclaimed dramas to aim high, dream big, and be complex enough for endless discussion the next day and thereafter. In that arena, a revived "Twin Peaks" should feel right at home.
2. A limited series is the way to go. The chief weakness of the original "Twin Peaks" is that, after it solved its central mystery, the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), it had no story left to tell, and it had to strain and contrive to keep FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in town to keep investigating. Had the show ended by leaving fans wanting more, instead of less, it would be more fondly remembered today. Nowadays, network executives and viewers alike seem much more comfortable with dramas that either end after a single season of following a single mystery ("Gracepoint," "Fargo") or that reboot themselves with a new storyline and characters every season ("True Detective," "American Horror Story"). Given the amount of time it took to solve the Palmer case, and given how effective the eight-episode limit on "True Detective" has been, the nine-episode run for the new "Twin Peaks" sounds about right.
3. Premium cable is the right place. Not that profanity or nudity would have made the original "Twin Peaks" any better (for confirmation, see the "Twin Peaks" feature film prequel, "Fire Walk With Me"), but it doesn't hurt to have all creative options open. Plus, it'll be nice not to have the dream-state disrupted every eight minutes by ads for toilet paper. And it's also good that the show didn't go straight to Netflix, like the resurrected "Arrested Development." The work of a director as visual as Lynch demands to be seen on the big HD screen in your living room, not on your smartphone.
4. It's important to have the original creators on board. Fortunately, the idea for a return to "Twin Peaks' apparently originated with the old show's creators, Lynch and Mark Frost. Contrast that with this week's other news, that interlopers were trying to make a TV follow-up to Cameron Crowe's beloved 1989 movie "Say Anything...", a show in which an aged Lloyd has lost Diane but seeks his youthful spark in order to win her back. This sounds like a terrible idea, of course, but Crowe didn't own the rights to his own creation and had no say in its redevelopment. Nonetheless, he and original star John Cusack objected loudly via social media and got the project scrapped.
5. Some "Twin Peaks" fans will inevitably be disappointed. Even with the participation of Frost and Lynch and as many of the original cast members as they can get, there's probably no way this can live up to memories of the old show. About all it can do is avoid doing anything that dishonors those memories – and live up to its own new standards, whatever those turn out to be. That's another reason why nine episodes and out is a good idea.
6. Watch out for the "Muppet Babies" effect. That's a problem that plagues TNT's "Dallas," another recent reboot of a show that had been off the air since 1991. The new series isn't bad, and it's willing to dip its toes into realms the original largely avoided (ethnicity, sexual behavior). But its next-generation cast are pale copies of their parents, and they still seem like wide-eyed children, especially whenever the experience-hardened elders show up. (The death of Larry "J.R. Ewing" Hagman in the middle of season 2 is a loss the new show will never be able to recover from.) In the case of "Twin Peaks," avoiding the "Muppet Babies" effect will be tricky. MacLachlan and Heather Graham aside, many of the original stars haven't aged well (it was a shock to see Sherilyn Fenn as a dumpy hausfrau on "Ray Donovan" this season) or have died (R.I.P. Frank Silva, who played killer Bob). A lot of the show was about teen angst; will the new "Peaks" feature those characters as middle-aged adults and recreate the old show's "Rebel Without a Cause" vibe with their children? Tread carefully, Mr. Lynch and Mr. Frost.
7. Young viewers still probably won't get what the big deal is. After all, they grew up in the universe "Twin Peaks" created. They live in a world of TV quirkiness – what's one more sample? The shock of the new that "Twin Peaks" gave its original viewers won't be possible for them. Ah, but then again, the ultimate lesson of "Twin Peaks" is...
8. Expect the unexpected. After all, Lynch is 25 years older, too. He's gone from cult figure to mainstream success and back to cult figure again. His work has only gotten stranger and more arcane and personal. Who knows what will emerge from his subconscious this time out? At least he seems excited about a narrative project for the first time in the decade since his last feature, "inland Empire." As Frost said in an interview this week, addressing fears that "Twin Peaks" will have lost its novelty value, " Well, the novelty hasn't worn off for us. I think we'll be able to effectively translate that into today's cultural language without too much trouble."
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