The series unfolds across three seasons, 25 years, and two networks. It follows FBI special agent Dale Cooper (played by the charming Kyle MacLachlan) as he travels to the town of Twin Peaks following the murder of high school student Laura Palmer. But while investigating her murder, Cooper realizes something much stranger is going on in this small town. This is more than a murder; it’s something involving interdimensional beings from a place called the Red Room. As Cooper tries to solve the case, he also becomes entangled in the drama of the small town, from drug rings to arson. This is not just a story about an agent and his case; it’s about the deep dysfunction that lies at the core of Twin Peaks and how each citizen is trying, and often failing, at coping.
It is hard not to gravitate towards at least one character and become invested in their story arc. Perhaps you’ll fall in love with Audrey (Sherlyn Fenn) and her mean girl exterior that’s hiding a life full of loneliness. Maybe the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) will enchant you with her esoteric speech and mysterious demeanor. Or maybe Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) will catch your eye with his skeptical ways but tender interactions with Cooper. The town of Twin Peaks is full of strange and fascinating characters that each add something to its eccentricity.
That’s one of the amazing things about Twin Peaks: this is a show about the town, not just one character. So if there is a character that is particularly frustrating, they will not always be on screen or even in each episode. Variety is the spice of life they say, and Twin Peaks has that in spades. You never know if an episode will skew more towards melodrama or creepy, which keeps you watching; every episode is unexpected.
What keeps Twin Peaks from falling into complete melodrama is not only its horror elements but also its uncanny presentation of its characters. Each one, from Dale Cooper to receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), acts like human beings but with slight exaggerations that almost make them unfamiliar; they are caricatures of the feigned perfection of the 1950s, stuck in time. Dale Cooper, with all of his charm, is just a tad too friendly and overzealous. Deputy Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and Lucy are little too saccharine and silly. Villain Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie) is slightly too dramatic and sinister. With the uncanny nature of its characters, Twin Peaks is able to create something new and unique, unlike anything the viewer may have seen before. It subverts the expectations and denies any strict genre categorization.
While the first two seasons of Twin Peaks were a parody of network television, the third season, resurrecting the series after 25 years, became much more cinematic, which makes the show’s return all the more satisfying. The show moved from ABC to Showtime with an even creepier vibe and a more polished aesthetic. Its focus shifted from melodrama to the sinister lore of this strange and uncanny world. The scope expanded beyond the borders of a small Pacific-Northwest town to Las Vegas, New York City, and a world that exists somewhere outside of our own.
Lynch maintains that uncanny atmosphere, particularly in creating the dry suburbia of Las Vegas. It follows closely in the footsteps of his film Blue Velvet as everything appears bright and colorful, but that only masks its dark underbelly. Suburbia is full of secrets, and in the case of Twin Peaks, some incomprehensible secrets at that.
But mixed with the seeming perfection of suburbia is a world akin to Eraserhead. It is a monochromatic dimension full of humanoid figures, empty rooms, and white noise. The deeper Lynch takes the viewer into this world, the more they want to try and understand what exactly is going on. The mystery and intrigue created in Season 3 make it nearly impossible to stop watching. Plus, each episode ends with a music act that forms a killer soundtrack for these strange and uncertain times.
Everything about Twin Peaks is compelling. When you press play you feel like you know these characters, like you are returning home. It is funny, tragic, dramatic, scary, and full of love. You want to know what is happening in that Red Room just as much as you want to make sure Dale or Audrey are doing all right. It is a piece of uncanny fiction, bordering on magical realism, particularly in the final season, that melds together the familiar with ideas of alternate dimensions and realities. It is David Lynch playing with time, space, and audience expectations. He never gives you what you expect, and he often exceeds any expectations he meets. Twin Peaks is a show that will keep you guessing, entertained, and comforted as you watch. So open wide, take a bite of Norma’s cherry pie, and savor every moment of Twin Peaks.