Stay Weird, Twin Peaks
Showtime's reboot might be a typical Hollywood money grab, but the return of the series' creators is a good sign that the new episodes could be as freaky as the previous ones.
This morning, director David Lynch announced the return of his groundbreaking series Twin Peaks with a tweet that called back as much as it looked forward. There was a hashtag, #damngoodcoffee, referring to the catchphrase of Kyle MacLachlan's city-slicker FBI agent Dale Cooper. Even more tantalizingly, there was a prototypically Lynchian video—a shot of Laura Palmer (she of “Who killed Laura Palmer?” infamy) beckoning to the viewer (like something out of one of Cooper’s prescient, uncanny dreams), followed by the series’ famous opening shot of the town’s cheery welcome sign on a foggy day.
For fans of the program that originally ran on ABC in 1990 and 1991, it was more or less a perfect tweet—a nostalgia trip promising that the show’s essence would remain intact when its new season (nine episodes, directed by Lynch) airs on Showtime in 2016. That essence? Inexplicable, atmospheric weirdness.
But from an industry perspective, the new episodes won’t be weird at all. Showtime is just the latest network to repurpose iconic stories for the nostalgic modern-day audience: The success of Bates Motel (Psycho), Fargo (of the Coen Brothers movie), and Hannibal (Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, Red Dragon, etc.) has solidified the idea that rebooting a cult-cinema classic is a sound business strategy. Doing the same for cult, cinematic television was just the next logical step. It’s an unavoidable fact that Twin Peaks, which has always resisted television convention, is returning in part because it’s playing by Hollywood’s new rules.
Typical for anything Lynchian, there’s a meta dimension to this, too: Twin Peaks inspired so many television copycats that it’s not obvious how the show might keep its edge. In the past, everything from The X-Files to Lost to The Sopranos were considered fannish descendants of the series—more recently, it’s been noted True Detective and The Leftovers owe a lot to their surreal-noir predecessor.
Let’s not underestimate, however, the power of the truly strange to remain truly strange. As the final, triumphant production credit in the Showtime teaser conveys, the new series marks the grand return of the original partnership of David Lynch and Mark Frost. Back in the ‘90s, the Lynch-Frost approach—abstract, fond of narrative detours—served up such sublime, iconic moments of bizarreness as Audrey’s diner dance and Agent Cooper’s Tibet-championing rock test. The enigmatic spin-off film Fire Walk With Me tended to alienate viewers, but at least it was distinctive.
Frost has gone pure Hollywood in his post-Fire Walk With Me years, penning audience-friendly fare like Fantastic Four 2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer and The Greatest Game Ever Played. Lynch, meanwhile, has stayed inscrutable. The director who actually baffled David Foster Wallace on the set of Lost Highway has in his senior-citizen years never been so visible, nor so inaccessible. He’s indulged a wide range of passions, from singing (two solo albums since 2011), to speaking out for the benefits of transcendental meditation, to creating his own coffee blend, to releasing a line of women’s sportswear—and those are just the recent projects. Lynch returning to a serial televised endeavor marks a big change from the hyperactive, sporadic activities that have characterized late career.
Older and wiser, Lynch will likely bring what he’s learned to the script of the latest Twin Peaks. Frost’s mature Hollywood experience might add some new polish. The coffee could even be even better. But here’s hoping the fundamental freakiness remains. In a way, this deliciously unsure moment for the show's future is fitting: It’s Twin Peaks—who knows what’s going on?