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'Twin Peaks: The Return': More Art Than Anything Else
September 3, 2017  | By Roger Catlin
 

A new two hour David Lynch film premieres on cable tonight, and we should welcome it with all of the promise that might bring us. That it is also the two-hour season finale of Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime, 8 p.m.) should not dampen enthusiasm a whit.

Sure, there have been many people — alleged Twin Peaks fans among them — who have dropped out from the unlikely return of the show a quarter of a century after the last one ended. These viewers, whose tastes have supposedly been heightened by the Golden Age notions of elongated story lines, strange and dreamlike turns, and downright plot puzzles, still couldn’t cotton to Lynch’s unrelenting weirdness.

And yet it’s been the weird that’s been its attraction all along, back when it was the most unlikely of broadcast hits and cultural touchstones. Nothing on broadcast TV had been as experimental or artistic when Agent Dale Cooper came into the tiny confines of the town to solve a mystery and get a good cup of coffee. That America celebrated it in its time and looks at it fondly today in rematch binges is one of the most hopeful things in television, giving hope that dreamlike, abstract storytelling and visual wonder can capture large audiences.

That its life on ABC ended with a weird man speaking backwards in an unknown world with a red curtain and zig zag floor was not an aberration, Lynch and his co-writing partner Mark Frost have returned to let us know. They hadn’t run out of ideas and let the series sputter out after two seasons in a super-weird place.

This place, they returned to Showtime to tell us, was the tangible end of a alternate dimension, where, they would have us believe Kyle MacLachlan’s Cooper has been all along. And to get him back into Earth-time, back into this dimension, wasn’t as easy as the snap of the fingers it takes other films and TV.

No, being in another dimension for 25 years and then returning, by squeezing through the tube of an odd machine that some teenage security guard wasn’t watching in New York, meant Cooper had to adjust mostly by taking the role of one Dougie Jones of Las Vegas.

It was surprising how far he got in this role even though he was largely unable to do anything but repeat the last word anybody ever said to him. (But then again we live in a time when people with stunted communication ability go awfully far).

MacLachlan’s Dougie (top) was a hoot and a delight, especially when he did find some skills, such as winning every slot machine jackpot he touched (after yelling “Hell-ooo!” as he pulled back at the crank). His devotion to coffee was even more single-minded than it was in the 90s.

But yes, they seem to be saying, there is some adjustment needed when returning from another dimension. It took 16 episodes for the old Agent Cooper to suddenly snap to it, with a sure plan to capture his doppelgänger (who is named Mr. C and has wild hair and a sneer) as well as solve the resurgent mystery of Laura Palmer, whose image surfaces briefly in the dreamy title sequence but has otherwise not been mentioned.

Instead there are all kinds of crazy things going on: Malicious hillbilly folk, figures disappearing before our eyes and the shocking demise of Laura Dern’s Diane (left) before our eyes last week. Lynch is present to literally set the tone for the events by making his character as FBI Director Gorden Cole ever more strange — shouting all his lines and letting the silences linger in between.

It’s as if he’s saying, I’ll be this crazy to show you how crazy your character can be.

For those who have been pitting the new Twin Peaks against the much more popular Game of Thrones, no there isn’t as much action (and so far, no dragons). But as Lynch did in the most experimental of his films, he’s lets scenes roll out unsettlingly long — well after everyone has had something to say. This gives things a strange, hollow tension that also harkens back to early experimental films, in which things just lie there for a while and simmer.

For as odd as it seemed at the time, I keep in mind that scene where the agents stood silently as one smoked a cigarette and everyone watched. There was one whole episode that may go down as the mother of all origin episodes — it went back to the solar system, space, and an odd mansion where some sort of life originated (the one that involved the red velvet curtain).

There have been some great pop culture moments folded into the return, from David Bowie's near forgotten role to Eddie Vedder appearing as one of the many acts who play live at the roadhouse at the end of episodes.

But for a favorite moment, I would say it was the time grizzled Jerry Horne looked down his leg only to find his appendage address him in a child’s (subtitled) voice: “I am not your foot.” It was so weird and Dadaesque, it harkened back to Magritte’s I am Not a Pipe.

And that’s what Twin Peaks might be, after it’s all said and done. Not a detective caper, or gumshoe sendup, not a celebration of American tropes from diners to police stations, but strictly Dada.

I can’t wait for this finale.

 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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