Last night I watched the first four new episodes of Twin Peaks since 1991. A show whose influence still echoes in modern day television, I was curious to see how it would perform a quarter-century after it left the airwaves. Overall, it did not disappoint.
The first thing to know is that I am not a devout Twin Peaks fan. It was a phenomenon difficult to escape in the early '90s, and I'd tune-in every now and then to see what the denizens of the 51,000 populace 'small town' were up to. It wasn't until years later that I gave it more attention, as my spouse is a huge fan of the original program. So, last night, with our newly-minted Showtime access via streaming in place, we watched the first four episodes of the new show.
Some spoilers follow from here onward, so turn away now if you don't want to know anything about the new version.
The new Twin Peaks is, as I suspected it would be, representative of David Lynch's evolution as a filmmaker in the twenty-six intervening years between broadcasts of original episodes. Flourishes of Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire definitely appeared last night. Whether or not you think that's a good thing will depend upon what you thought of the aesthetics of those films. Also, Lynch's advice that you should watch/re-watch Fire Walk With Me, the Twin Peaks prequel movie, proved correct, as I (not having seen it) would have to lean over a few times to Ashley and ask what something in the show was about. "It was in the movie," was his most frequent answer.
When last we saw star of the show Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), his body was possessed by the demonic Killer Bob, and his soul trapped in the paranormal realm known as The Black Lodge. When the new show starts, nothing has changed. If you're waiting for that situation to be rectified over the course of the first four episodes, it sort of is. Sort of. Along with Cooper, we see many more of the quirky characters from the original show, but not all. Not yet, anyway. The late Catherine Coulson (known affectionately as The Log Lady) appears in episodes one and two, obviously in ill-health. Richard Beymer (a personal favorite) returns in episode one as Benjamin Horne, but doesn't reappear.
Others from the original cast make fleeting appearances, as well. The late, great Miguel Ferrer is back as dour FBI agent Albert Rosenfield in episodes three and four, alongside the already-annoying David Lynch as FBI agent Gordon Cole. We also see the return of characters Bobby Briggs, Lucy, Deputies Andy and Hawk, Sarah Palmer, Doctor Jacoby, Jacques Renault, The Giant, The One-Armed Man, Denise Bryson and, as ghosts/souls of themselves, Leland and Laura Palmer. Major Briggs even makes an odd appearance in episode three. At this stage, it is difficult to know exactly what impact the old characters will have on the program going forward.
Of the new characters, well, it's hard to say who I like most. We're introduced to a Lynchian backwoods family in episode one, but most of the characters introduced there are dead by episode four. The dishy character of Sam (Ben Rosenfield), whom we meet as the watcher of a strange, empty glass box in New York City, was also a favorite, until he died horrifically in episode one. Oddly, I kind of liked Brent Briscoe as a rumpled detective in South Dakota. Not sure how much more of him we'll see. Naomi Watts is a good actress, but I found her character to be annoyingly loud and abrasive.
Thematically, this isn't your parents' Twin Peaks. Gone is the coziness of the single town location. In fact, the little hamlet of Twin Peaks has to fight to get any spotlight here. We're probably in Philadelphia as much as we're there. If anything, Las Vegas and South Dakota are the prime locations, at least so far. And of course NYC. Along with the greater expanse of locales, this new show is somewhat colder in look and feel than the original. That's some of Lynch's evolution that I alluded to earlier. The sights and sounds are weirder, if that were possible, and the horror has definitely been dialed-up. We see some gruesome deaths, awful corpses and nightmarish visions.
Also, as I suspected, answers to some of the original show's cliffhangers are left -- so far -- unanswered. The last we saw of Audrey Horne, Pete Martell and Andrew Packard, they were in an exploding bank. There's been no sign of them -- nary a word said -- during the first four episodes. We do, however, get a verbal explanation of what happened to Major Briggs. The character of Jacques Renault was last seen in the original series being smothered dead by a pillow. In the new program, he's quietly tending bar, no explanation given.
The pacing of the new program also feels faster than the original. Oddly, I've read that some people consider last night's broadcast to have been very slow. I disagree. It is only slow in comparison to more modern TV fare. For a Lynch outing, however, it runs at a pretty good clip. Consider the bank scene during the season two finale in 1991. That was almost painfully slow, with a static shot at one end of the bank that did not move even when the characters had walked all the way to the far end of the set. It's deliciously Lynchian, and nothing like it exists in the new show's first four episodes. The only scenes that come close are the ones with the empty glass box in NYC.
And, finally, there are some quibbles. Mainly, Twin Peaks is still a very white show. Aside from Deputy Chief Hawk (Native American), there are no people of color in the program until midway through episode three. A young African-American woman appears, as a naked prostitute. Which leads me to my other issue: Lynch doesn't know how to handle women, how to give them agency, as it were. More than one woman gets completely naked in the new show. Another one is scantily-dressed and, basically, terrorized by the Killer Bob version of Agent Cooper. Women are fairly subservient in this show so far. The ones who aren't, who have a voice, come across as harsh and unrelenting. There is no in between. Hopefully, that improves as the program continues.
Overall, I give the new Twin Peaks, so far, a thumbs-up with a smile, some coffee and a slice of pie (though the coziness of all that has pretty much been eschewed in the 2017 version). It's a series that pays respect to its roots, but isn't afraid to push forward and embrace the 21st century, for better and for worse. I'm certainly intrigued to find out what happens next.