A few months ago my cold and bitter heart grew four sizes one day (one more than that slacker The Grinch managed). The reason? Against all odds it was announced that the beloved, ground-breaking, and beautifully bizarre Twin Peaks would be returning to television thanks to Showtime. To use the parlance of our times, the internet exploded with the news. The show was a legitimate phenomenon when it premiered on ABC as the 80s turned into the 90s. It revolutionized what we thought the little picture box in our homes could do, not just prefiguring the explosion of adult TV drama that we all enjoy today, but thanks to the mystical mind of David Lynch it stretched television into the avant-garde. Last weekend, my heart broke into a million little pieces when Lynch announced he was leaving the project after budget negotiations went sour with Showtime. It was heartbreaking, but here’s the thing: Showtime never announced the cancellation of the project. It is the most discussed show the network has put out…well…ever and they have the rights to go on as well as the scripts and the cast. It’s entirely possible that we will still get to return to that strange little Pacific northwestern town, but should that happen without a certain transcendental meditation, coffee, and cigarette advocate in charge?
The answer according to the internet and the original cast (who put out this charming little video) is a resounding, “no!” But unfortunately it’s not their call. Based purely on Lynch’s vague description of his drop out, the reason appears to be financial. It’s unlikely that’s the result of Lynch demanding too much money. Granted, the continued success of the series is likely a big cash cow for him, but he’s never been a guy inclined to value money over art. No the culprit is likely the fact that Lynch adamantly wants to shoot the comeback series on film, just like the original Twin Peaks run. In an HD dominant age, it’s rare for major movies to spend the cash on film over video. In television, it’s completely unheard of. Given that Showtime can’t accurately predict how much internet hype will translate to revenue with this risky venture, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t want to spring for film. So, that’s likely what’s gone wrong and it’s easy to see the point of view of both sides. Showtime needs to be careful about spending given that they are hardly a powerhouse network, while Lynch knows how to craft beautifully haunting images on film like few other artists and it’s unlikely he could pull of the same tricks on video.
Regardless of whatever the issue is between Lynch and the network (it’s safe to say that he’s got some wacky ideas in store that aren’t exactly commercial), the fact is that Showtime can keep this series going without him. They have the scripts. They have the cast. They have the rights. It could still happen. While it’s hard to imagine a Twin Peaks comeback without David Lynch, it’s not exactly impossible to imagine Twin Peaks without him. Sure, Lynch’s fingerprints are all over the series and without him the show simply wouldn’t be what it is. However, of the 30 episodes of Twin Peaks that exist, the fact is that Lynch only personally directed six. Sure, he was involved as a guiding hand over much of the series, but he only ever called the shots on the set in less than 1/3 of the episodes. More than that, he’s already written all of the scripts for the series with his co-creator Mark Frost. He was only a credited writer on 4 episodes of the original series. So even if he doesn’t direct a single shot of this follow up series, he’s already more directly involved than he was on the bulk of the show that’s forever tied to his name.
Much of the success of the most famous season of Twin Peaks can be attributed more to Frost than Lynch.
More than that, co-creator Mark Frost hasn’t dropped out. He still would be in charge and it’s worth noting that Lynch was absent for the bulk of the first season of Twin Peaks that’s easily the highlight of the series. After directing the pilot, co-writing the first three episodes, and directing the third episode, Lynch left the first season of Twin Peaks in Mark Frost’s hands so that he could make his film Wild At Heart. Granted, he was still involved with the edit and had worked out the general plots of the episodes with Frost before he left, but much of the success of the most famous season of the series can be attributed more to Frost than Lynch. Whatever is planned for this potential Twin Peaks comeback, Lynch was substantially involved with its conception and his personal aesthetic is so tied to the series that it would be possible to recreate in the hands of talented artists under Frost’s supervision. That’s how some of the greatest episodes of Twin Peaks already came to be. It’s possible that this thing could still work.
Of course, Lynch also dropped out for most of the second season after being forced by the network to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer too early (as did Frost for that matter) and at that point the show went straight down the toilet leading to cancellation before Lynch and Frost returned to steady the ship at the end of the year, when it was too little too late. There are many hours of bad Twin Peaks episodes out there and after so much time without this beloved slice of small town surrealism, it would be a shame if any new additions proved to shovel more crap onto the legacy. It’s been proven that Twin Peaks can both thrive and fail without Lynch’s guiding hand, so it’s impossible to predict exactly what would happen if Showtime moved forward with the series without his involvement. However, one thing is for sure: the very best episodes of Twin Peaks transcended television conventions because Lynch was fully in charge.
Personally, I’m deeply conflicted about what should happen next. Even though I never dreamed it would be a possibility until a few months ago, I desperately want the new Twin Peaks that I was promised and I want it right away. Good or bad, with Lynch directing, the revival would be must see television. Even when Lynch fails, he does so fascinatingly. Obviously having him in charge makes the prospects of this comeback incredibly exciting. However, there’s no denying that the series has worked without his directorial input before and he’s already put in enough work on the project that his vision and fingerprints will be a substantial part of anything that gets made. Showtime continuing this project with Mark Frost as top dog is hardly an ideal scenario, but that doesn’t in and of itself mean it will be a disaster. At least we’ll still get one more blast of damn fine coffee, pie, and red room insanity. As someone who has been starved in a desert of Twin Peaks-free television for decades, I’ll take a sip of anything I can get. I might regret it, but I can’t pretend I won’t be curious. So, let’s hope that whatever conflict led to Lynch leaving the show and setting the internet on fire last weekend gets resolved and dreams can come true. But if not, let’s not jump so quickly to the conclusion that this whole project has to be shut down immediately. Right now, there is a series of new Twin Peaks scripts written by David Lynch and Mark Frost with the entire original cast confirmed to come back. That’s a miracle in and of itself. Maybe we should just be happy to take what we can get if Showtime decides to keep this train moving forward….