In hindsight, it’s nearly impossible to explain how Twin Peaks got on TV in 1990, let alone how it became a phenomenon. What network executive would ever put a TV show in the hands of someone like David Lynch whose cult films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet might have been brilliant, but were about as far from cozy pop culture entertainment as possible. Even when Lynch partnered with TV vet Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues), it’s not like they would ever deliver something resembling cozy primetime entertainment. Yet, somehow Lynch/Frost were granted the chance to make a pilot for Twin Peaks and even less likely, it was picked up for a series.
Watching Twin Peaks now, it still feels like avant garde television and oddly it’s most familiar elements were unconventional at the time, they just caught on and changed television. The Twin Peaks light may have burned out within three years, but the legacy lives on and the original series remains just as compulsively watchable, beautiful, strange, and terrifying as it did 20 years ago. After months of hype, the show has finally debuted on Blu-ray and to say the results are stunning is an understatement. This isn’t just one of the best Blu-ray box sets of the year, it’s one of the best ever made.
“Filtered through Lynch’s surrealist lens, Twin Peaks has a perverse beauty in its bleakness and is undeniably powerful.”
The key to Twin Peaks becoming a pop culture phenomenon was mystery and sequential storytelling. Mystery is of course the key element to all of David Lynch’s work, while answers tend to be absent. The goal of his series was to introduce that style to television. The concept involved a strange small town in which the body of the prom queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washed up on the shore one morning, murdered and wrapped in plastic. The murder prompted nutball/genius FBI Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to come to town and attempt to solve the crime. The audience would follow Cooper as an outsider in a strange land. The mystery would spark the series, but the answer was never meant to be revealed. Instead it would give Lynch and Frost the opportunity to explore a strange town in which one mystery would open up many others. Even Cooper himself would add layers to the onion, working from intuition rather than investigation and taking cues from dreams involving a backwards talking dwarf who might signal the presence of eternal evil in the town. So, yeah, it’s weird TV.
Though it might not seem so groundbreaking today, the concept of basing a TV drama around a mystery was something that viewers had never seen before in 1990 (sure, there was The Fugitive, but it was more of a mystery wrapped around episodic storytelling rather than a single continuous narrative). America became obsessed with the mystery of Twin Peaks and even just the concept of a serial drama in which every episode had to be watched and questioned was fresh (sure soap operas existed, but come on!). It was a hit. The trouble is that audiences didn’t just expect answers to all the darkness and strangeness on display, they demanded it. By the time the second season rolled around and Lynch began expanding his questions and deepening his sense of pop surrealism, viewers grew frustrated and ratings dropped. Network executives demanded that Lynch/Frost finally the answer the question of “who killed Laura Palmer” to save the series. They did.
The answer was dark and devastating. It should have ended the show. It would have been beautiful. Unfortunately, there were still 13 episodes left in the season and no one involved in the series had plans for how to fill them. The show fell apart until Lynch returned to deliver a wacko season finale, but by then the damage was done and the show was cancelled. It was a shame, yet almost appropriate. If the goal of the series was to build a web of mysteries surrounded in small town surrealism, then when the mysteries are solved it was all over. Yes, more bizarre characters and plot twists were introduced, but they felt forced. In a strange way, the abrupt cancellation of the series was almost appropriate. It allowed the show to conclude on the note of the unknown that Lynch always wanted. Of course, he wasn’t done with Twin Peaks yet. He had more story to tell, just not in a way that would come close to wrapping up the series like mainstream fans wanted.
A year after the end of the series, David Lynch made the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Rather than picking up on the cliffhanger ending of his finale, he went backwards and made a prequel. Lynch’s film depicted the case that brought Agent Cooper to Twin Peaks and the last tragic days of Laura Palmer’s life. While the series was beloved for its quirky humor and characters in addition to the all the mysterious darkness, the film was a headfirst dive into incest, drugs, murder, and the destruction of a teenage girl. Filtered through Lynch’s surrealist lens, the film has a perverse beauty in its bleakness and is undeniably powerful. It’s far too episodic and oblique to qualify as his greatest film, but it did not deserve the vicious reception it received in 1992. Critics despised the film, while the few audiences who showed up felt betrayed by Lynch who not only didn’t answer their questions, but offered a horrific and all too real nightmare in favor of the quirky/cool tone they loved. However, over the years fans have come to embrace the film and many even consider it the highlight of the whole franchise. Sure, it didn’t wrap up Twin Peaks in a tidy bow, but it did reveal the dark heart of the pop phenomenon that many viewers were too scared to confront in the series.
Since Twin Peaks has become possibly the most beloved cult series in the history of television over the last 20 years, it’s no surprise to see it come to Blu-ray. However, the fact that it debuted in HD in such a stunning package was a genuine treat. CBS/Paramount managed to clear up age-old rights disputes to combine not only the entire Twin Peaks series on Blu-ray, but also Fire Walk With Me. The technical presentation is simply astounding. The always beautiful series has been meticulously restored frame by frame by David Lynch. Details are almost painfully clear, the colors glow hypnotically, and the remixed 7.1 audio provides an enveloping atmosphere that 90s TV viewers could never dream of. Fire Walk With Me looks and sounds even better thanks to a more leisurely shooting schedule and a theatrical sound mix. Watching Twin Peaks on Blu-ray is almost like watching it for the first time again. Paramount did an astounding restoration and given that what a stylish and atmospheric franchise it is, that only makes it better.
Everything about the disc has been lovingly crafted. Even the box feels like a work of art, but I won’t say how because nothing compares to the joy of discovering it in your hands (just make sure to dig all the way to the bottom for a hidden surprise). Hours upon hours of archival footage and special features from previous DVD releases all appear, while new features include a deeply strange interview between Lynch and a few collaborators in which they appear to Lynch in a coffee fueled vision and another interview between Lynch and the actors who played the Palmer family (both in and out of character and that first bit needs to be seen to be believed). However, for Twin Peaks obsessives the gold in the box set are the 90 minutes of deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me that have been cleaned up and freshly scored by Lynch. These scenes have been rumored for decades and taken on legendary status. Though they are ultimately little more than odds and ends, as a fan they are almost magical to watch.
You’ll see David Bowie’s expanded role, terrifying moments of atmosphere, goofy comedy from all of the characters missing in the theatrical cut, and even a few minutes of scenes that take place after the series finale. It’s incredible to see all the footage and watch the long lost Twin Peaks world live again. However, anyone expecting the series to finally be explained through the missing footage just doesn’t understand Twin Peaks. If anything the new footages only deepens the mystery of Twin Peaks, offering further exploration of an eccentric and enigmatic world. It’s a great place to visit and this Blu-ray is the perfect way to wander back into the town of damn fine coffee and even better pie. Just don’t expect any answers. Twin Peaks is one of pop culture’s greatest mysteries because it will always remain one.