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Before it was anything else, Twin Peaks was a soap opera, a prime-time melodrama about murders, love affairs, drugs, double crosses, nefarious schemes, and dark secrets—to borrow the tagline for David Lynch’s aborted follow-up series, Mulholland Drive, it was about “good people in trouble.” Set in a cozy backwater town in the Pacific Northwest, five miles south of the Canada–US border, Twin Peaks was at heart voyeuristic, making its viewers feel as though they were spying on their neighbors. More than once, Audrey Horne, inspired to play detective by her new crush, Special Agent Dale Cooper, spies on men—her father, then one of her father’s underlings—recalling how Jeffrey Beaumont, in Blue Velvet, peered at Dorothy Vallens through the slats of her bedroom closet. Indeed, Lynch started work on Twin Peaks when his agent asked him to expand Blue Velvet into a TV series.


Accordingly, a later episode sees Audrey’s father, Ben, ask whether a rowdy group of investors from Iceland are on “nitrous oxide” even as his business rival, Josie, follows him and his lover, Catherine, to a motel, snapping photos from her car just like Blue Velvet’s Jeffrey.

Blue Velvet took place in Lumberton, USA, and Lynch similarly set Twin Peaks in a seemingly wholesome logging town that harbored dark secrets. But Lumberton mostly resembled an actual place, with its hardware store and its diner and tree-lined streets, even if Lynch ironized their depiction with close-ups of gleaming white picket fences, waving firefighters, and obviously fake robins. With Twin Peaks, which premiered on April 8th, 1990, Lynch pushed that irony further. There has never been a small town like Twin Peaks, and there never will be. Twin Peaks was idealist, its characters archetypes—caricatures, but no less true despite their exaggerations. We meet roughly two dozen of its inhabitants, all of them adults; even the teens at the local high school are played by twenty-somethings. They are also, one and all, impossibly attractive. As FBI Director Gordon Cole later exclaims, “The world of Twin Peaks seems to be filled with beautiful women!” The people of Twin Peaks were ridiculously gorgeous, as well as classy, glamorous, well-dressed. Uniforms abounded. Men wore suits, while women wore sweaters, skirts, dresses. And when they moved, one caught hints of stockings and garter belts.

That was a metaphor for the show: decorum on the surface, with a hint of sexuality underneath. After Laura Palmer’s death, FBI man Dale Cooper arrives in town and starts tugging at various threads, revealing the tranquil, idyllic town’s sleazy underbelly. But while the show revolved around lurid things, Twin Peaks was never lurid. There was no nudity or language, and not just because the show aired on network TV. Twin Peaks was a tease—Audrey using her mouth to tie a knot in a cherry stem. It was dreamy and romantic, elegant, a companion to the prime-time soaps like Dallas and Dynasty that had dominated television and the culture throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t until the film Fire Walk with Me—which tellingly opens with a shot of a TV set exploding—that Lynch produced an R-rated installment, in which we, like Donna Hayward, got to shadow Laura Palmer on her rebellious late-night excursions, with their nudity and foul language and graphic violence and gore, and which tragically led to her grisly death at the hands of her father, Leland, wild-eyed and frowning grotesquely as he raised his arms toward heaven, unfurling an iconic sheet of plastic.

Until then, the sordid details of Laura’s secret life and murder played out only in our heads, and Twin Peaks was escapist, fun—an adventure. As Dale Cooper put it, “I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have no doubt that it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” Today “Lynchian” is a synonym for “nightmarish,” but Twin Peaks, back in the beginning, wasn’t a nightmare. While it got strange at times, even outlandish, it remained grounded in the familiar, and we tuned in each week to watch the same characters visit the same locations. We wanted to go there, to hang out with them, to tag along with Cooper and Sheriff Truman as they visited the Double R Diner for coffee and cherry pie. Watching the series, we get the sense that time isn’t passing—that we’re caught up in the timeless nature of a remote town where entropy isn’t in effect. The plates of donuts are always full, the pots of coffee always fresh. We can eat donuts and pie and coffee all day without gaining so much as a pound. The series as a whole seems to glow, the lighting warm and soft, the tones earthy and wooden, mahogany, honeyish. At its heart, Twin Peaks was goodhearted. “Every day, once a day,” Cooper tells Sheriff Truman, “give yourself a present.” Twin Peaks was that present.


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