The above ad that appeared in TV Guide announced the premiere of Twin Peaks, a series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost that debuted 30 years ago today. The image above suggests that the program was a soap opera, and to be honest, it was. But it was so much more than it. With elements of science fiction and dark comedy, Twin Peaks laid the groundwork for decades of police procedurals to come by chronicling the adventures of Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan), a charming, coffee- and donut-loving FBI Agent who arrives in the titular sleepy Pacific Northwest town to discover who killed high school student Laura Palmer.
Of course, this is just the most threadbare description of Twin Peaks possible given its eventual shift in focus from a murder investigation to a pensive rumination on how man is ultimately responsible for all of society’s evil. But hey, we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Upon its debut three decades ago, the show was an instant hit due to its great critical reception and bizarro storytelling that brought Lynch’s twisted artistic sensibilities to the mainstream while subverting (and expanding) the possibilities of TV itself.
While the main storyline of Twin Peaks concerned itself with the Palmer case, in the background lurked a rogues gallery of compelling supporting characters who helped reshape television. (The quirky residents of shows as disparate as Northern Exposure and Gilmore Girls would not exist were it not for Twin Peaks).
After the dark reveal of who murdered Laura Palmer and why, the series floundered during its second season — and Lynch eventually left the show. Which was cancelled shortly after. A program that was once a pop culture juggernaut lost favor in the minds of the general public. But all hope was not lost. Twin Peaks was rebroadcast on various cable channels where it found second life as a cult show. Meanwhile, Lynch worked on a prequel film with new co-writer Robert Engels, Fire Walk with Me, that explored Laura Palmer’s final days. Fans looking for the fun of the first season of the show were baffled by the film (which introduced new characters like David Bowie‘s Special Agent Phillip Jeffries) upon its release in August of 1992. The movie’s dark nature didn’t appeal to critics or diehard fans, and it bombed at the box office.
But the themes explored in this film left enough of an impression on both Lynch and some fans that its impact throughout the third season, titled Twin Peaks: The Return, which aired for 18 episodes on Showtime in 2017. Indeed, The Return offered fans the best of both worlds by offering several compelling mysteries along with some fun that recalled the first season’s lightest moments. Most of the series’ original cast returned, and the show was an artistic and critical sensation.
Despite the cliffhanger ending (which can easily be interpreted as a dark coda on the whole saga), the future of Twin Peaks is not entirely clear. Then again, nothing about this franchise ever is, which is why it has embedded itself in the hearts and minds of viewers for three decades.
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