Editor’s Note: This post likely contains spoilers. Not our problem.
Quite possibly due to a contractual tiff that escalated into some pretty nasty online accusations, David Lynch replaced Michael J. Anderson — the dancing, wacky-talking, indisputably iconic Man From Another Place — with a goddamn telepathic tree. But within the context of the world as presented by Twin Peaks, the casting swap doesn’t feel shocking, or even unnatural.
Of course Michael J. Anderson is a tree now. Why wouldn’t he be?
In terms of sheer weirdness, Twin Peaks: The Return completely eclipses the original, but this is to be expected. Not only are we talking about the differences between early ‘90s network TV and 2017 cable, but Twin Peaks’ reputation kept snowballing after its entirely deserved 1991 cancellation. Since then, it evolved into one of those singular chunks of modern popular culture you’re basically expected to appreciate if you’re either a smart person, or consider yourself a smart person who likes smart people things. We have not perceived Twin Peaks as a mere TV show for quite some time. In musical terms, Lynch and Mark Frost’s dramedy/mystery/satire became television’s answer to the careers of Ian Curtis and Darby Crash, where the never-to-be realized possibility of what could’ve been is, in many respects, more compelling than the reality of what is.
Crash and Curtis can’t ever come back from the dead, but Twin Peaks crawled out of its grave, dropped its pants, and fucked us all right in our eager, soaking brain holes last night on Showtime. A cursory glance at reviews and reactions indicates rapturous praise, and I’m guessing most or all of those writers have yet to absorb the third and fourth of the scheduled 18 installments, both of which dropped On Demand during Monday morning’s inaugural hours.
The original pair of Twin Peaks seasons soar as crucial, gripping exercises in atmosphere and purposeful ambiguity, and crumble fantastically whenever attempting to operate in the manner of a conventional TV show. So it follows that Twin Peaks: The Return benefits by wandering thousands of miles away from its eponymous woodland community. The deeply unsettling circumstances surrounding a double homicide in South Dakota, possibly committed by a high school principal (rendered superbly by Matt Lillard); a dude in New York City getting paid to stare into a circular blank screen and, for hours, wait for an unspecified something to appear — these elements uphold the show’s unfuckablewith legacy to a T, and justify their creator’s name getting tossed around as an oft-abused synonym for “creepy” and “confusing.”
But a few episodes later when Wally Brando (a terminally distracting Michael Cera) rambles into town on his motorcycle to the glee of his goofyball parents Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) and Lucy Moran (Kimmy Robertson), the show recalls its eminently fuckablewith, dishwater season two actuality.
But let’s ignore that — and a bunch of other silly bullshit from episodes three and four — for now, and focus on the boffo first 120 minutes of Twin Peaks: The Return.
Offering a summary for what passes as a “plot” feels largely beside the point. But if we must address what “happens,” aside from the aforementioned, Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) spends most of the two-episode block trapped in The Black Lodge, where he left off at the conclusion of season two. For 25 years, Cooper’s sat in a chair listening to otherworldly specters — Mike The One-Armed Man, The Giant, the essence of Laura Palmer, The Tree From Another Place, and the rest of the gang — say cryptic shit like “Is it future or is it past?” “Remember four three zero,” and “I am the arm and I sound like this.”
Meanwhile in the tangible world, Cooper’s total dickweed of a doppleganger has amassed a nationwide criminal empire. Benjamin Horne (Richard Beymer) still runs the Great Northern Hotel and his little brother Jerry (David Patrick Kelly, a.k.a. T-Bird from The Crow) smokes a lot of weed these days! Doctor Jacoby lives in a trailer in the woods and paints shovels for some reason.
‘Twin Peaks’ crawled out of its grave, dropped its pants, and fucked us all right in our eager, soaking brain holes last night on Showtime.
Due to Cooper’s disappearance and Sheriff Harry Truman’s yet-to-be-explained absence, the onus falls to Chief Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) and apparently The Log Lady’s (Catherine E. Coulson, RIP) Log to resolve a mystery of a predictably obscure nature. Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick) hangs out at the Bang Bang Bar, and reports that despite a motorcycle accident and consequent debilitating head injury, James Hurley (James Marshall) “is still cool.”
Chromatics perform in the background (see below) while Shelly reassures us of James’ coolness, so we can tentatively (hopefully?) expect the various musicians who surprised us on the cast list — Sky Ferreira, Trent Reznor, Eddie Vedder, and Sharon Van Etten, ect. — to show up as themselves in a similar capacity.
The hour and a half — distinctive more for abrupt, jarring editing style and tone than plot or character — plays out more like a David Lynch film than a pair of television episodes. Factoring in the third and fourth installments’ unevenness makes me dubious that Twin Peaks: The Return can sustain 18 hours via style, even when in this case, style and substance are one and the same.
But the journey should be worth taking for its own sake, even if our destination turns out to be Heather Graham winning her second consecutive Miss Twin Peaks pageant or somesuch other malarky.
Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson.