July of 1990 was a big month for me: I graduated from Grade 10, I got my drivers’ license, and I kissed the girl who would become my almost-first-but-definitely-second girlfriend (don’t go there, Jake; it’s high school). Also, at the recommendation of my Aunt Cathy, I tried a new TV show called Twin Peaks. Cathy was a grown-up, so her tastes in pop culture were automatically suspect, but she was also one of those Sharplins who really “got me” — plus, she was really excited about this show. So, on July 3, 1990, when ABC rebroadcast the series premiere of Twin Peaks, I watched it. Then, since I’d also taped it on the VCR, I watched it again. And again.
Back then, I knew nothing about the work of its creator, though I’ve since watched all of David Lynch’s films, much to the chagrin of my wife, who doesn’t get them at all. And who can blame her? Lynch’s stories are deliberately cryptic, full of private symbolism and intentionally alienating stylistic choices – slow scenes that go on too long, followed by choppy sequences of brutal, inexplicable violence. And it doesn’t add up – the narrative of a Lynch film is quintessentially dreamlike, and while dreams sometimes seem to make sense while you’re having them, they collapse under scrutiny.
That’s why, in a subsequent decade, when I worked at a video store, customers would bring back Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway in a state of outrage. They felt personally affronted because Lynch couldn’t be bothered to connect the dots for them (I would sneer and point out that our store was called Alternative Video Spot, so renter beware). And it’s why, even later in life, when I tried to show Twin Peaks to another girlfriend – one who had inducted me into the New Golden Age of prestige TV by showing me Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and The Wire – she turned up her nose. “It feels really dated,” she complained, “And I like knowing what’s going on.”
In 1990, at 15 years old, I didn’t know what was going on – with the world, with myself, and certainly not with this whole new “girlfriend” business I was trying out. So a TV show that took “normalcy” – the quiet, small town, the neo-50s high schoolers – and turned all that on its head, peeling away the facade to expose dark, empty dread beneath? Yes please! And does it come with a side-order of surrealist comedy? You bet? And Sherilyn Fenn is a regular? Maybe I can get my “girlfriend” to watch it with me…
I did more than that. By Labour Day, I’d roped half a dozen other kids into joining me for a series of Twin Peaks marathons, complete with cherry pie. Christine and I bonded strongly over TP, but in the fall, we drifted apart at much the same rate as the show itself – unmoored from Lynch’s genius, the second season devolved into a less delightful form of incoherence, and got cancelled after Season 2. By then, I was on to something else – probably vampires – but I always revelled in TP‘s cult status, and felt hipster pride in knowing that I had been there right from the start. I owe Aunt Cathy a lot.
Now, against all odds, Twin Peaks is back on television, and I am quietly geeking out in a way that I almost never do these days. As a middle-aged white male, I am in the sweet spot: Hollywood is churning out reboots, remakes, and adaptations of pretty much everything I loved in my youth, from Star Wars to Daredevil to Watership Down (another film I watched and then immediately watched again and again and again). I consume it all – and yes, even some original stuff now and again – but most of the New Nostalgia feels forced, or faded, like an overplayed VCR tape.
Twin Peaks 2017 is blowing me away. The first two episodes felt much more like late-career Lynch – uncompromisingly dark and oblique, with none of the narrative concessions that made the original series accessible to newbies like me. Original characters popped up from time to time, but it seemed as if Lynch were indifferent to them – and even to the town of Twin Peaks itself, a character in its own right, but barely even glimpsed as the episodes took us to New York City, South Dakota, and deep into the Black Lodge. And while it felt exciting to watch a new Lynch movie (his last, Inland Empire, was in 2006), it didn’t feel like classic TP.
But episodes 3 and 4 have eased back into a familiar groove, partly because more and more classic characters keep popping up (Hey, it’s Bobby! Hey, it’s Albert! Hey, it’s coffee!), partly because of the wacky new characters (Hey, it’s Michael Cera playing a sociopathic Fonz!), but mostly because the mood has shifted. The darkness is still there – it’s grafted on to every shot, through the ominous soundtrack and the lingering, mournful camerawork – but now it’s more organically shot through with absurdist light. Seeing Agent Cooper in a David Byrne-style oversized blazer, trying pancakes for the first time in 25 years, I genuinely feel as if everything is going to be all right.
Except it’s probably not, of course. Lynch excels at rug-pulls; every moment of every episode could go any direction at all. But it’s what I love about the show, and why I’m so happy it’s back. Its return also helped me realize something about my own tastes. When I think about works of art that have instantly made me want to go back and watch/read/listen a second time, I can see a pattern. Along with Twin Peaks and the original film of Watership Down, there’s Donnie Darko, and Breaking Bad, and R.E.M.’s album Monster, and Moonface’s Heartbreaking Bravery, and Dan Simmons’s novel The Terror, and Tom King’s recent comics run of The Vision. They all excel at slowly mounting dread – elements of befuddling wrongness concealed within normal scenarios, tiny at first but inexorable in its rise to eclipse the ordinary.
I wish I had local friends with whom I could geek out about Twin Peaks. But meanwhile, maybe I can take this nugget of discovery and apply it to something new. Maybe it’s time to write again?