Why Twin Peaks Is the Greatest Show in the History of Television
Twenty years and one week ago, Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks premiered on ABC and changed television forever. I was eight years old and only peripherally aware of the revolutionary series. I recall watching an early ep and feeling strangely drawn to it, but being tied to the TV whims of my parents, I never saw another episode until college—at which point I became completely consumed and have cycled through the series on a continual loop ever since.
Other, more intelligent writers than I have expounded on what makes Twin Peaks so brilliant, so compelling, so avant-garde and yet so timeless. I’m a shallow lady, however, indulging in shallow delights, and so will merely present to you my superficial reasons that Twin Peaks is the Greatest Show In the History of Television.
Townies! Twin Peaks, Washington is a quirky village lively with quirky villagers. Like wacky Dr. Jacoby, the hippie psychiatrist!
Or crazy little Nadine, the eyepatch-wearing kook who’s obsessed with inventing silent drape runners and thinks she’s still in high school.
And there’s sweet, silly lumberjack Pete Martell, who left a fish in the percolator when he brewed a pot of coffee!
Of course, it turns out that most of these eccentric characters are hiding dirty secrets and sinister motives, but that’s how Lynch does Cheever. Actually, that’s how Cheever does Cheever.
Soap opera scandal! Oh those quirky townies! They’re so charming and idiosyncratic! Also, they’re all sleeping with each other. Twin Peaks brings the juicy double-crossed love with a bang. NOBODY on this show is sleeping with just one person. Nobody! Check out this awesome diagram from a Newsweek when the show was still on the air.
Adolescent angst. Gossip Girl thinks it’s cornered the market on teen drama? Hah! Twin Peaks victim Laura Palmer fits an entire season’s worth of adolescent agony into a typical afternoon. Cocaine, pregnancy, prostitution, forbidden love, abuse: Laura’s got it all. Plus, she got herself murdered before the show even started! Beat THAT, Serena van der Woodsen!
The Music. Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score is universally familiar, yet still eerie and strange every time I hear it. He made each scene more breathtaking, more heartbreaking, more supernatural and suspenseful than Lynch or the performers could manage on their own. Check it:
The Food. Possibly my favorite aspect of Twin Peaks, Agent Cooper’s love of food permeates every scene of the show. Donuts! Pie of all flavors!
Hard-boiled eggs and crispy bacon! The taste sensation when maple syrup (*clap hands*) collides with ham! The lovely Norma, pie purveyor at the Double R Cafe, provides most of the delicious food on the show:
But Benjamin Horne’s brother Jerry bestows us with my favorite food experiment when he gushes over a baguette with brie and butter. So simple! So delicious! I’ve tried this magnificent sandwich and I have to agree: the. best. ever.
The ladies. Twin Peaks has ‘em in spades! Strong women with complex motivations that go way beyond landing a man. (That’s just the icing.) Some of my favorites:
Audrey Horne, the rebellious and troubled daughter of the richest man in town. Her crush on Agent Cooper leads to some smokin’ hot chemistry, but her assistance to his case is invaluable:
The beautiful, wise and generous Norma Jennings, the manager at the Double R Diner. Played by the gorgeous Peggy Lipton (mother to Rashida Jones!), on whom I have a ferocious girl crush:
The Log Lady! An intense and crotchety seer of the deeper mysteries that occur in the leafy little hamlet:
Earnest, eager and chatty Lucy, dispatch at the sheriff station. (I met actress Kimmy Robertson at the Twin Peaks marathon at the original Alamo Drafthouse!):
The aforementioned Nadine Hurley, who could arm wrestle a trucker and win:
and my absolute favorite, who gets to be her very own Top Reason:
Catherine Martell. Played to melodramatic, manipulative perfection by the wonderful Piper Laurie, Catherine runs the local lumber mill, manages her sweet schlub of a husband Pete, engages in a so-wrong-it’s-right affair with town richie Benjamin Horne and still has time to participate in a good ten or fifteen diabolical schemes before the sun sets each day! Beat THAT, Alexis Carrington!
The fellas. Twin Peaks has its share of good-hearted gentlemen, as well. (There are far more jackholes and yawn-worthy princesses such as Donna, James, Bobby, Shelley, Leo, Josie, etc, but we’ll leave those for now.) Some of the men who make my heart flutter…
Sheriff Harry S. Truman, a genial, donut-loving man who’s unafraid to accept Agent Cooper’s unlikely caprices at face value:
Deputy “Hawk,” who’s a total stereotype as the wise, gentle Native American, but it’s a stereotype that I can’t help but love!
Okay, I just love the ENTIRE Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department and their donut-scarfing ways.
Including hapless Deputy Andy, Lucy’s boyfriend and Harry’s cross to bear:
And of course there’s Big Ed Hurley, unlucky husband to Nadine, incredibly lucky lover to Norma. Sensible and placid, homeboy can fill out a flannel:
Laura’s father, Leland Palmer, played by the great Ray Wise. Leland grieves wildly throughout the series, drifting from wacky dancing hijinks to soul-crushing sobs in the space of a few minutes. Wise PLAYS it:
Donna’s father, Dr. Hayward, the Twin Peaks physician. This poor beleaguered man has to endure a lot through the course of Cooper’s investigation, and he does it all with grace:
And the final father in the mix, Audrey’s. Benjamin Horne is smooth, nefarious and debonair. No wonder Catherine fell so hard:
And of course the Man Himself, David Lynch as FBI Chief Gordon Cole:
Twin Peaks Made it Normal to be Weird. For the American audience to have so fully embraced a primetime television show made of such bizarre unconventionality? Miraculous. So many of my favorite shows have David Lynch and Twin Peaks to thank for paving the extraordinary way: X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Carnivale, Supernatural… Not to mention that Twin Peaks‘ popularity allowed David Lynch far more autonomy in getting his eccentric projects produced. We have Twin Peaks to thank for Mulholland Drive, and I, for one, am VERY thankful for that. Ahh, the weirdness. Some highlights…
Killer BOB, you so crazy:
(If you’ve never heard the story of how Frank Silva was cast as BOB, go here. It’s a hilarious story and speaks immensely to the improvisational method of Lynch’s direction.)
Identical cousins! (Sheryl Lee plays both Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy):
David Duchovny in drag:
A casino/bordello where all the high school girls just happen to work on the side, no big deal:
The Man from Another Place (a stellar Michael J. Anderson):
And this guy:
Good Old-fashioned Mystery. The intrigue behind Laura Palmer’s murder is one of the most abiding mysteries of our time.
In parts noir, gothic and satire, Agent Cooper’s relentless pursuit of the truth parallels the audience’s, as we all follow clues and maddening misdirections scattered throughout the series. Yes, the show probably should have ended after the mystery is solved, as the series began to dissolve in the final half of the second season, but who am I to complain about more face time with…
Special Agent Dale Cooper. Yes, the number one reason that Twin Peaks is the greatest show in the history of television is due to this character, played to riotous and meticulous effect by Kyle MacLachlan:
He’s a hard-boiled FBI agent who always gets his man. He also always gets his cherry pie and his coffee, black as midnight on a moonless night.
Cooper is the most cheerful and affable FBI agent ever to grace the screen, and his running commentary by tape recorder to unseen assistant “Diane” gives us insight into his idealistic, fastidious, open-minded soul. He’s my absolute top fictional crush EVER. I love Coop so much! He’s more of a Mulder than a Scully, cheerfully following the tenets of dubious Tibetan methods for solving a case based on a dream he once had. Cooper pretty much solves the entire mystery based on his dreams. And oh, what dreams they are.
In conclusion, I leave you with this. Erin as Audrey Horne, Mandy as the Log Lady, Matt as the One-Armed Man (Mike Gerard), and myself as Nadine Hurley, holding a bag of cotton balls.