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Welcome to Twin Peaks: a much-awaited return

May 19, 2017

It's been a quarter of a century since one of the most recognized questions in popular culture hit television: "Who killed Laura Palmer?" Get ready for the much-awaited revival of David Lynch's eccentric TV format.

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Image: picture alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

The cult TV series that changed television's landscape forever is back. The creators of "Twin Peaks," acclaimed director David Lynch and screenwriter Mark Frost, waited for more than 25 years to revisit the misleadingly sleepy, fictitious small-town in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where it's safe to say that nothing is quite what it seems.

With the airing of the first episode of the new season of "Twin Peaks" imminent, a whole new generation of viewers is about to be introduced to a mysterious world that has kept its cult following growing for a quarter of a century. But what makes "Twin Peaks" so unique?

Departure from light entertainment

For many fans of the show, "Twin Peaks" marked the beginning of a new era of entertainment. At the dawn of the 1990s, the world was more than familiar with years of overdramatic antics delivered by inimitable soap opera characters like J.R. Ewing from "Dallas" or Alexis Carrington Colby from "Dynasty." As iconic as those shows and their larger-than-life parts were, they may have lacked in depth, warmth and humor at a time, when television was still the main source of entertainment for most households.

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"Twin Peaks" combined nostalgic elements of Americana and a central mystery that still haunts fansImage: picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

"'Twin Peaks' shifted television as we knew it. It was smart. (It was) the first TV show that I ever watched that didn't insult my intelligence," says Rob Lindley, organizer of the annual Twin Peaks Festival. "At the same time it pushed boundaries in the way it combined serious content with comedy and spirituality."

Lindley, who remembers becoming a fan of the show from the first episode, believes that it was the quality of writing that went into "Twin Peaks" that made it such a success:

"The many plots and subplots are just incredible. People had never seen anything like this on television before. It changed TV forever."

'A place both wonderful and strange'

David Lynch and Mark Frost managed to fill a niche with "Twin Peaks." Sometimes quirky and at other times downright spooky, it offered a cinematic world filled with wonderment and unmistakable Americana that defied the standards of its day. Twin Peaks, like its inhabitants, became known as "a place both wonderful and strange" - to quote from the cult show that drew in audiences around the globe.

"The universality of that small-town setting is one of the biggest attractions of the show, I think, where on the surface everything looks beautiful but when you pull back you realize: actually, these are not nice people," Rob Lindley explains, highlighting the many social issues that Twin Peaks dared to address in its various plotlines:

"It took topics like sex, drugs and incest - absolute taboo subjects at that time - and put them on TV, without ever mentioning any of those words either. And it was all presented in a magical world, far away from anything we know. In fact, part of the attraction of the show is also that it is set in this far away place that likes to hold on to its old-fashioned ways. Many people identify with that and can therefore access the difficult subjects brought up in 'Twin Peaks.'"

Vulnerable characters on prime-time TV

Jürgen Müller, an art historian at the Dresden University of Technology and an expert on TV series who wrote "TASCHEN's Favorite TV Shows: The top shows of the last 25 years," says that "Twin Peaks" was the first show to squarely address "the dark side of human nature."

"The protagonists (in shows like 'Twin Peaks') are no longer all good or all evil; they rather take on much more complex dimensions of personality. It was the first time a series that was entirely built on the premise of having vulnerable characters aired on prime-time television. That was revolutionary at the time."

Lindley adds that "people can relate to the characters in Twin Peaks. Even to Laura Palmer - or especially to Laura Palmer. You know, there's a young girl who's struggling to find her identity, struggling with sexuality, trying to understand the world and find her place in it, with all its good as well as the evil."

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Familiar faces: little is known about the highly anticipated third series but many of the original roles will be reprisedImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/S. Tenner

Black Lodges and other occult references

Not only did "Twin Peaks" illustrate a wide spectrum of aspects in human nature in brutally honest and graphic ways, but its soundtrack also emphasized the multidimensional and often dark world created in the series. Angelo Badalamenti's score - ethereal and simple at the same time - helped "Twin Peaks" stand out, with the three opening notes of Laura Palmer's theme going down in TV history as one of the most haunting and recognizable tunes ever written for the tube.

With both its imagery and music, "Twin Peaks" not only introduced but embraced mystery in a way that had not been seen on television before, creating a blueprint that many other shows would follow later on. "It all started with Twin Peaks," says Jürgen Müller, referring to the many occult and supernatural elements of the show.

"We had never really seen dancing dwarves in red rooms and demons possessing unassuming characters on television before. Then came 'Twin Peaks.'"

Lynch's surreal creation also referenced Native American spirituality, UFO sightings and other absolutely unpredictable and perhaps outlandish ideas. Critics say that this is where the show got derailed and lost its focus, with too much free association from the director leading to the unexpected cancellation of "Twin Peaks" at the end of its second season in 1991.

'I'll see you again in 25 years'

Fans, however, have been wanting more ever since, with the cult following of "Twin Peaks" only being matched by the likes of "Star Wars" or "Doctor Who." David Lynch tried to tidy up some of the lose ends left behind by the sudden termination of the series by directing a prequel movie for the die-hard fans of "Twin Peaks," but despite creating a standalone masterpiece for the silver screen with the "Fire Walk With Me" film, fans were left with more questions than answers.

Few believed that the ominous prophecy uttered by prom-queen-cum-dead-body Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee) in the series' finale would ever hold water, saying there would be some kind of reunion 25 years later.

Even David Lynch himself famously ruled out the idea of revisiting the series following all the trouble he had encountered with TV executives before the show got cancelled. Instead, he opted to leave audiences hanging on one of the eeriest cliffhangers in TV history - for a quarter of a century.

"First I was shocked when I heard that 'Twin Peaks' was coming back. Then I felt happiness. And then there were tears of happiness," says Rob Lindley.

"So many fans never expected a new season. Even the actors thought it was never going to happen. But now it is really happening, and I think it's going to be bigger than anything before. I expect this will be David (Lynch's) masterpiece."

'Another TV revolution'

In his signature style, Lynch made sure that details pertaining to the plot remained unknown; even the actors featured in the new series never got to read a full draft of the upcoming third season but were only given small parts of the script.

Actor Kyle MacLachlan, who plays one of the main characters of the show, coffee-fetishist and FBI Agent Dale Cooper, says, however, that the new series "is going to be like something you've never ever seen on television, I don't even think in film either."

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David Lynch threatened to abandon the relaunch of the series if he wasn't given full creative freedomImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Huesca

"This is going to be earth-shattering," MacLachlan said in a recent TV interview. Rob Lindley says he feels the same kind of enthusiasm, stressing that David Lynch, who directed all 18 new episodes, had unprecedented liberties on the production of the new series on account of it being produced by the subscription-based US cable network, Showtime.

"I think that now that this is not network TV, which confines you as an artist, there will be a lot of artistic freedom for David. He'll get to do the show he always wanted to. And there'll probably another TV revolution, now that David has all these creative freedoms to do what he wants," Lindley told DW.

"It's already being billed as an 18-hour movie in 18 installments. That alone is a completely new concept for TV."

Big names and familiar faces

A glimpse at the cast list reveals that many of the original favorite characters are bound to make a return - even though some of them will have to find a way to overcome their plot deaths in seasons 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, some of the more familiar faces won't be able to join the Twin Peaks reunion due to their own untimely deaths in real life, such as the part of recluse Margaret Lanterman (played by Catherine E. Coulson) who has a unique relationship with her log. It remains unknown whether they will be replaced by new actors, revived by using archive material, or killed off from the show's narrative altogether.

And with high-profile names like Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Ashley Judd and Jim Belushi featuring prominently on the new cast list, one thing is almost for certain: Lynch is banking on taking "Twin Peaks" to new heights, hoping to appeal to his fan base as much as to novices by introducing new characters played by popular celebrities.

If his gamble works out, it could possibly even spin off more new seasons in future. And if not, we will probably still be debating whoever killed Laura Palmer 25 years from now.

The new episode of "Twin Peaks" will be broadcast globally on May 21 and 22.

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson