The 90’s were a glorious time for television. With the lighthearted and almost meaningless fluff that filled living rooms the last forty years finally wearing viewers, and the emergence of cable stations like HBO as a viable means to tell gripping stories without the restraints of basic cable budgets, producers, and writers alike saw a change in audiences brewing and took the opportunity to push their creativity and story telling into a new, much more raw territory.
Perhaps the first and most meaningful change came on April 8, 1990 when, just four months into the start of what would be considered a creatively booming decade, the world was introduced to the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington and the murder and subsequent investigation into the death of Laura Palmer.
Originally airing on ABC, a network willing to take a weighty risk, “Twin Peaks” redefined storytelling and the limitations of violence, drug use, and sexual promiscuity in prime-time television.
A brainchild of Mark Frost and cult-filmmaker David Lynch, whose credits include “The Elephant Man”, “Eraserhead” and the always stunning “Blue Velvet”, “Twin Peaks” was a ratings smash anchored by quirky characters, Angelo Badalamenti’s hauntingly beautiful and emotionally biting score, and a plot line not unlike a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.
The story follows the titular Northwest town as it reels from the death of beloved homecoming queen Laura Palmer, whose body was found beaten, raped and washed up on the local shore, wrapped and bound in plastic.
The town, and in turn the audience, is mostly unassuming to the tribulations of murder, especially one as brutally defined as this, and when another young girl, a fellow student of Laura Palmer’s, is found meandering the streets beaten and raped in a similar manner, the case is given to the FBI’s Special Agent Dale Cooper who makes his way to Twin Peaks to conduct the investigation.
This town, however, is far from what it appears. Beyond the sleepy woods, log cabins and meek population, a great evil lurks, an evil some chose to fight and others fall victim to.
The show has undoubtedly aged in the twenty years since its original airing and at times, with its purposefully cheesy dialogue and over-the-top acting, and it plays as nothing more than a day-time soap opera, “Twin Peaks” really hits its stride when focusing on Cooper’s investigation of Laura Palmer’s death, with the Special Agent serving as the audience’s window into the town’s psychotropic mythology.
Led in part by bizarre dreams of giants, a dwarf who talks backwards, and the evil spirit known only as Bob, Cooper’s investigation leads him through every character and aspect of the small town, giving co-creator Lynch his time to shine as a truly bizarre and somewhat avant garde composer of human interaction and celestial prophecies.
While the show only lasted two seasons and dwindled slowly and painfully away from its original and fascinatingly unique folklore, “Twin Peaks” stands out as a standard for which all other shows of that decade, and this, are judged.
This post is part one of a series, find the second article here The Best of the Set Pt. II, and the third one here The Best of the Set Pt. III.