Picking up twenty-five years later, David Lynch, Mark Frost and Kyle MacLachlan return to the scene of the crime in Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. More continuation than reboot, the show once again seeks to redefine what television can be.
The Production: 5/5
Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series is both a follow-up to the original Twin Peaks series and prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and a stunning new take on the world that David Lynch and Mark Frost created over twenty-five years ago. Promoted by Showtime as Twin Peaks: The Return, and known informally as the third season, this is both a continuation to the original show, as well as an expansion of that world. When Lynch and Frost announced in 2014 that they would be returning to the world of Twin Peaks, no one knew quite what that would entail. Would it be more in the vein of the show’s excellent first season? Would it be filled with the weaknesses of the oft-maligned but underrated second season? Would it be more like Lynch’s more experimental, less narrative recent works like Inland Empire? With an advertising campaign that gave nothing away, all anyone could do was speculate until the show actually premiered.
The last time Twin Peaks was seen on television, the landscape was quite different than it is today. Serialized television was the exception to the rule and there was a strict division between “movie stars” and “TV actors”. In today’s television environment, there’s an expectation for continuity of character if not storytelling, and the wall that separated television and film careers has been all but erased. What Lynch and Frost accomplished on TV decades ago is rightly considered to be classic and unprecedented, but since that time, their work has been copied, imitated and absorbed into the standard television making playbook. Its influence can be seen in shows as widely varied as The X-Files, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and especially Lost. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Lynch and Frost was in deciding how to make a show feel as revolutionary in 2017 as Twin Peaks had in 1990. They succeed largely by throwing away the old playbook and coming up with a new style, one that is both immediately recognizable as David Lynch but is also vastly different from what came before.
One of the great joys of watching Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series during its 18-episode run on Showtime in the summer of 2017 was not knowing: not knowing where the show would pick up, not knowing where the story would take the characters, not knowing what would happen from week to week. Most modern shows telegraph both where they’ve been and where they’re going with each passing episode, whether it’s the preshow recap or characters explaining where they’ve just come from and what they hope to do next. (The best example of this type of storytelling might be 24, where characters constantly state what activity they’ve just come from, how they feel in a given moment and always declare what they’re about to do next. There’s never a mystery in 24 about what anyone is trying to accomplish; it’s just a question of whether they’ll accomplish their goal before the ever-ticking clock finishes counting down.) Peaks eschews these conventions in favor of a more subtle, nuanced approach to storytelling, in which the characters frequently know more than the audience does. As the season begins, we get to know new characters and revisit familiar ones, but it is only after watching several episodes that the plot begin to come into focus.
If there was ever a show where the mantra “It’s not what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about that” was true, it’s certainly this one, which is why I am hesitant to reveal too much of the story. However, I think I can safely say this much without ruining the experience: when Twin Peaks went off the air over twenty-five years ago, it ended on a cliffhanger with our hero, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) trapped within an extra-dimensional world known as “The Black Lodge” within the show (and as “the Red Room” by fans). Meanwhile, an evil doppelgänger (also played by MacLachlan) escaped into the real world, taking Cooper’s place. The prequel film that followed, Fire Walk With Me, gave further detail to the mythology of the Lodge and the inhabitants within it, but did precious little to resolve the question of Cooper’s fate. This new version of the show picks up twenty-five years later, during which time Agent Cooper has remained trapped in the Lodge, while his doppelganger has roamed free in our world. But there are rules, and on the occasion of twenty-five years passing, the Lodge expects the doppelganger to return to the Red Room and plans to release the real Agent Cooper. However, the doppelgänger does not want to go back, and has a plan to ensure his own freedom while dooming the real Cooper.
Kyle MacLachlan is outstanding in the series, anchoring each episode with his portrayal of both Agent Cooper and the doppelgänger. Of the returning cast members, Michael Horse is a standout in his role as Twin Peaks Deputy Sheriff Tommy “Hawk” Hill. David Lynch and Miguel Ferrer, who had brief but memorable roles in the original series, return to the show with expanded prominence as FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole and FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield. Dana Ashbrook returns as Bobby Briggs and Madchen Amick as back as Shelly, and their two story arcs beautifully convey how things both change and stay the same with the passage of time. Of the new cast, Laura Dern and Naomi Watts shine brightest. Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh are amusing in their roles, while Robert Knepper and James Belushi expertly move from terrifying to hilarious, often within the same sequence. It is a treat to see the nearly ninety year old Don Murray back onscreen. As with the plot itself, there are so many delightful turns from unexpected performers that while I hesitate to list them all here, they all make memorable contributions. Too many of the cast members passed away either during or after production, and it is a blessing to see them so vibrant and alive onscreen one last time.
The question I am most frequently asked about A Limited Event Series is whether one needs to have seen the original Twin Peaks to enjoy it, and if they have seen the original Peaks, if they need to rewatch it before watching this new season. While I think it is possible to enjoy this new show without having seen the old show, I think the experience is so much richer if the viewer has a familiarity with this world and its characters and themes. If you’ve seen the original series but don’t care to revisit every moment of it, I would recommend rewatching the following episodes first: Pilot, Episode 2, Episode 8, Episode 14, Episode 16, Episode 28 and Episode 29. Fire Walk With Me is also essential viewing as much of the mythology from that film becomes important as the revival continues.
3D Rating: NA
The presentation of Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series on Blu-ray is fantastic, and exceeds the quality of the original Showtime run. By choosing to limit the episode count to no more than three per disc, each episode is allowed room to breathe, and compression and encoding artifacts are nowhere to be found. With David Lynch directing all eighteen episodes, there is a consistency to the look of the show from episode to episode. Lynch tends to establish a different aesthetic for each of the primarily locations, and sticks to it for the duration of that storyline. For example, scenes shot in and around the fictional Twin Peaks (with real Pacific Northwest locations subbing in), tend to have a more overcast, hazy look, while scenes in Las Vegas are brighter and sharper.
Some viewers may note that some of the special effects have a more abstract look, and appear less photorealistic. However, I believe this was a deliberate choice by Lynch, and fits in with the aesthetic he was trying to create. When Lynch is aiming for photorealism, the effects easily reach that level, but when he’s going for something more otherworldly and absurd, the visuals reflect that as well.
By any metric, the presentation on these Blu-ray discs exceeds the original Showtime broadcasts. Fans should be pleased by the upgrade, while new viewers should enjoy the presentation without reservation.
Where Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series truly shines is in its audio design. The Blu-ray presents the same 5.1 mix originally presented on Showtime, but it is enhanced by being presented in the lossless Dolby TrueHD format. In addition to co-writing, co-producing and directing all eighteen episodes, David Lynch also created the sound design for the series. Dialogue is well-recorded and mostly based in the center channel, but Lynch also uses the remaining channels to create distinct moods and feelings throughout, with everything from industrial rumbles to piercing strains of classical musical (often reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s use of music during the more otherworldly segments of 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Additionally, Lynch’s longtime composer Angelo Badalamenti returns to the series, using a mix of classic themes from the original run of the series and Fire Walk With Me, along with new material creates especially for this season. Badalamenti hasn’t lost a step and his music effortlessly swings between the dramatic, the sublime and the humorous. If Lynch himself tends to be close-mouthed about what his intentions are, Badalamenti’s music is always a welcome key to the feelings the work is meant to provoke.
Most episodes of the series contain a “performance” from a different band playing at the Bang Bang Club (otherwise known as the Roadhouse). Though all of the performers are miming to tape playback rather than performing live on set, the music is well chosen and compliments the show.
Simply put, this is one of the most exciting soundscapes I’ve ever heard.
Special Features: 4.5/5
Though David Lynch is notorious for refusing to discuss the meaning of his work, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series includes a surprisingly candid and generous array of bonus features which intricately detail the production of the season. Because the bonus features reveal key elements of the show, most of these features are best viewed after watching the actual episodes. Bonus features are includes on discs 1, 2, 7 and 8.
Series Promos Produced By David Lynch (05:44) – A set of seven brief advertisements that aired on Showtime and YouTube prior to the debut of the season. The promos give away very little about the show, but have a wonderful sense of atmosphere. These can be viewed individually or together using the “play all” function.
Twin Peaks: Phenomenon (14:26) – This is EPK-style material that briefly covers the history of the original series, the fan culture surrounding the show, and the anticipation surrounding the revival. Comprised of three parts (Creation, Life After Death, Renaissance), these can be viewed individually or together.
Disc 1 also includes the ability to play episodes one and two as a combined feature-length presentation. Though I personally prefer watching the episodes individually, the inclusion of this option is appreciated.
Comic-Con 2017: Twin Peaks Panel (01:01:35) – This panel discussion was held during San Diego Comic-Con in the middle of the season’s run, and was originally webcast. Lost writer-producer Damon Lindelof hosts the panel, which includes actors Kyle MacLachlan, Tim Roth, Dana Ashbrook, Kimmy Robertson, Everett McGill, Matthew Lillard, James Marshall, Don Murray and Naomi Watts. Though he did not attend in person, David Lynch does appear via a pre-recorded video message. Conducted between episodes ten and eleven, the discussion includes some mild spoilers of things that had aired prior to episode eleven, but no spoilers for episodes that had yet to be broadcast. At the insistence of Lynch and Showtime, cast members were instructed not to discuss their interpretations of the events of the series nor their guesses as to where the story was heading, so this discussion is light on plot. However, the cast is able to discuss what it’s like to work for David Lynch, and original cast members get to speak about the experience of returning to the show. I recommend not viewing this until after completing the tenth episode.
Disc 2 also includes the ability to play episodes three and four as a combined feature-length presentation.
Crew List (04:02) – A complete list of all crew members from the season.
A Very Lovely Dream: One Week In Twin Peaks (27:10) – This featurette includes footage shot in September 2015 when the cast and crew returned to Washington State to shoot at the same locations from the original series. As directed by Lynch’s longtime special features producer Charles de Lauzirika, it’s a nice peek into the first days of shooting.
Richard Beymer Films: Behind The Red Curtain (29:23) & I Had Bad Milk In Dehradun (28:13) – These two films look behind-the-scenes of production in the Red Room, and were shot by series co-star Richard Beymer. It’s revealed during another special feature that the production needed to extend Beymer’s contract by a day to get one last scene; since Beymer was otherwise unoccupied, Lynch invited him to film the experience. Whereas de Lauzirika’s film was taken at the beginning of production, Beymer’s two shorts were recorded near the very end. Beymer is content to present the footage with minimal editing, allowing us to be a fly on the wall in Lynch’s most mysterious set.
Rancho Rosa Logos (02:22) – The different variations of the production company’s logo (which played at the start of each episode) are presented together here.
Behind-The-Scenes Photo Gallery – A series of photos from the production that the viewer may scroll between by using the forward and backward arrow remote buttons.
Impressions: A Journey Behind The Scenes Of Twin Peaks (04:51:07) – Broken into ten parts which can be played separately or viewed together, this is the centerpiece of the bonus material. It adds up to nearly five hours of behind the scenes footage which covers the majority of the production, and with very little overlap from the previous bonus material. As directed by Jason S, who had previously collaborated with Lynch on bonus features for “Inland Empire” and photographed the recent documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life”, it’s an intimate look at the production process. Though Jason S. presents the footage with stylized interstitials featuring desolate landscape photography and a heavily accented German voice spouting esoteric narration, which can be a little off-putting, the actual footage is remarkably candid, following Lynch through the production process. Jason S. was apparently present for the majority of the production, which allowed him the opportunity to catch all of the footage without anything having the appearance of being staged for the camera. Eschewing talking-heads interviews and show clips in favor of behind the scenes footage, seeing Lynch on set is often revealing in unexpected ways. It’s a treat to see him directing actors, especially those who appear only briefly in the series; rather than describing what a scene means, he’ll instead discuss how a character is feeling at a particular moment and why they feel that way, and then giving the actor room to find the performance. In the few moments when Lynch is shown losing his temper (usually during production meetings rather than on set), it quickly becomes obvious that he’s not acting out for the sake of ego, but because he’s trying to ensure the best possible environment for his actors and crew to work in. If you can look past the window dressing from Jason S. which seeks to obscure how revealing this footage actually is, what’s presented here is a fascinating and very satisfying look at Lynch’s production process.
I wish the set had included some material discussing the writing process (Lynch and Frost apparently communicated via Skype while collaborating on the script) and especially the editing and sound mixing, but what is here is gold. In an era where most bonus features are confined to EPK-style shorts scrubbed of personality, CBS and Showtime are to be commended for supplying both the quality and quantity of bonus material present here.
Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series is a fantastic addition to the world of Twin Peaks, and a show which manages to be as groundbreaking in 2017 as the original series was in 1990. With all eighteen episodes directed by David Lynch, and written entirely by Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost, there is a consistency to the new season that the original series sometimes lacked. The audio and video presentation on this CBS Blu-ray improves upon the quality of the original Showtime presentation. A substantial array of bonus features enhance the episodes without ruining their mystery. Though this revival won’t be for everyone, and though some fans of the original series may be unsatisfied with the less conventional storytelling techniques employed here, for viewers who do appreciate what Lynch and Frost are attempting, this is the television experience of a lifetime.