The American television industry had nearly hit rock bottom as it entered the ’90s. Only four dramas finished the ’89-’90 season in the Nielsen Top 20—and that assumes you can actually classify Murder, She Wrote and Matlock as traditional dramas.
Sitcoms dominated the lineups of the four major networks. Some of the shows were classics—Cheers, The Golden Girls, The Wonder Years—but most (Chicken Soup, Grand, Dear John) have been completely forgotten by time. America’s Funniest Home Videos and Unsolved Mysteries were mainstays in the Top 10. Quality programs like L.A. Law and thirtysomething were both nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the 1990 Emmys, but so was Quantum Leap (a decent show, but Best Drama?). The TV drama was truly becoming an endangered species.
That all changed on April 8, 1990—the day ABC aired the two-hour pilot of a new show entitled Twin Peaks.
In a mere eight episodes, the first season of Twin Peaks completely reinvented the idea of what could happen on a network TV show. David Lynch and Mark Frost created a world that was dark, funny, deeply disturbing, and somehow both nostalgic and groundbreaking at the same time. Networks had been making movies for TV for years, but Twin Peaks was the first TV show that felt cinematic. It was, in a word, mesmerizing.
Of course, the network execs at ABC messed it all up when they forced Lynch and Frost to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer early in the second season. The show lost its focus, the public lost interest, and ABC cancelled Twin Peaks after only 30 episodes.
Fast forward 25 years. We are all now living in a Golden Age of TV drama. Viewers are all too happy to binge-watch entire series because there are just too many fantastic shows available on too many platforms. And if you ask the people who created shows like Lost and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, a majority of them will cite Twin Peaks as one of their primary inspirations. Twin Peaks changed the rules about what you could do on TV, and today we’re all reaping the benefits of its genius.
Unlike many original viewers, I never lost interest in Twin Peaks during its initial run. I taped all the episodes on VHS when they eventually re-aired on Bravo, and of course I purchased the DVDs when they were finally released. Every few years, I’d watch the entire show again and re-immerse myself in Lynch’s amazing universe. I never even allowed myself to believe that Twin Peaks could return, especially since Lynch himself had often said he had no interest in revisiting the past.
And then an amazing thing happened: Showtime announced that Twin Peaks would return to the air in May 2017 as a limited series. Most of the original cast was scheduled to return, and Lynch himself would be directing (and co-writing) all 18 installments.
As a fan, it was a dream come true. I knew I’d finally get some sort of resolution to the show’s staggering cliffhanger finale, but I was equally intrigued by another question: If David Lynch had already changed the course of TV once before, what could he possibly do for an encore? How would the new Twin Peaks compare to the other great dramas of our time—shows that, in many ways, owe their very existence to Twin Peaks in the first place?
The answer to that is, like Twin Peaks itself, extremely complex. I spent every Sunday night last summer glued to Showtime as each new episode aired, and I regularly re-watched each installment at least two more times during the week. I also recently completed another binge-watch of the entire show, and I’m still not sure I’ve completely processed everything I saw.
There’s just so much to talk about, which is one reason I’m happy to let you know that the powers that be at The Rayva Roundtable have agreed to let me discuss the Twin Peaks revival over a series of articles. I’ll be able to break down plot points, discuss recurring themes, and attempt to tell you what I think really happened at the end (and believe me, there isn’t one simple way to describe it).
For today, I will simply try to answer one question: In a market saturated with quality dramatic programming, is the new Twin Peaks really worth 18 hours of your valuable viewing time? The answer is unquestionably “Yes”—although you might start to doubt that at more than a few points along the journey.
Anyone simply expecting a nostalgic trip to the Double R Diner for pie and damn good coffee with Special Agent Dale Cooper will certainly be in for a huge disappointment. Yes, Kyle MacLachlan is the unquestioned star of the new series, but his actual on-air screen time as our beloved FBI agent is quite limited.
Instead, McLachlan steals the show in two remarkably different (and Emmy-worthy) roles. The character of Mr. C will make sense to anyone who remembers the finale of the original show—he’s a Cooper doppelgänger inhabited by Black Lodge denizen Bob. McLachlan also appears as Dougie Jones, a Vegas insurance agent who is actually the real Cooper after his escape from a 25-year stay inside the Black Lodge.
There’s only one problem: Dougie is a virtual vegetable who seems to have very little memory of who he really is and how he got there. In other words, Agent Cooper spends a majority of the Twin Peaks reboot acting nothing like Agent Cooper.
As you might imagine, this was a source of great frustration for many viewers—myself included. But at about the halfway point of the show, it all clicked into place for me. I knew where this new version of Twin Peaks was going, and I was thrilled to be a part of the ride. I can’t wait to share my views and theories with you in future articles—but first you’ll need to watch 18 hours of some pretty amazing television.
A suggestion: Watch all 18 episodes as closely together as possible. The entire series was shot from one shooting script, and therefore really does play out like one long movie. The viewing won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun. But like the original Twin Peaks from 28 years ago, you’ll be taken to a place both wonderful and strange—and the results are literally atomic.
Seasons 1 and 2 of Twin Peaks are available on Netflix and Hulu. Twin Peaks: The Return is available on
Showtime Anytime (subscription required) and available for digital purchase on Amazon and iTunes.
Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”