Two-and-a-half decades after it broke the mold for what a television drama could be, David Lynch's famed cult TV series Twin Peaks returns for a third season that tries to pull off the same stunt again. In some ways, it succeeds, but you'll have to endure a lot of frustration to get there. The new show can be very alienating to both new viewers and longtime fans.
The Blu-ray box set features strong video and audio as well as a considerable volume of behind-the-scenes material that's perhaps more impressive in quantity than in quality. For Fans Only.
Murdered homecoming queen Laura Palmer once famously appeared to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in a dream and told him, "I'll see you again in 25 years." Remarkably, she actually followed through on that promise.
During its two brief seasons on the ABC network, David Lynch's surreal mystery thriller Twin Peaks was one of the most extraordinary things to have ever aired on television. Unfortunately, the show burned so brightly that it couldn't possibly last. Despite having captivated the world for its initial run of episodes, the series lost the majority of that audience within a year and was canceled shortly afterward. The theatrical prequel movie Fire Walk With Me was also a notorious box office bomb in the summer of 1992. Stinging from those failures, Lynch dropped any plans to continue the property further. For many years, he insisted that, even though it ended without narrative closure, the case on Twin Peaks was closed and he couldn't see himself ever revisiting it.
As time wore on, however, Lynch eventually softened on that stance. The legend of Twin Peaks grew with distance and its fan base remained passionate. Additionally, many new fans were garnered through DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming, and the cultural shift toward binge-watching TV shows alleviated many of the problems that viewers had keeping up with it originally. (Back in 1990, missing an episode meant losing track of the plot with little opportunity to catch up until reruns that might air months later.) The current, nostalgia-driven television environment is so inundated with revivals and reboots of other old TV series that, from a network perspective, a return to the town of Twin Peaks must have seemed like a no-brainer. Many of Lynch's original collaborators, both in front of and behind the camera, were also eager to finish what they started. Sweetening the deal, once Lynch himself got on board, the project wound up at the Showtime network on premium cable, where he was promised full creative freedom to do whatever he wanted, unconstrained by the restrictions of broadcast censorship. As the 25-year mark since Laura Palmer's last screen appearance approached, how could he resist?
Aired during the summer of 2017 under the promotional title Twin Peaks: The Return, the revival series is a full-on continuation of the original show, not a reboot in any sense. Even though he'd largely stepped away from filmmaking for the past decade, David Lynch committed to directing the entirety of a new 18-episode season, and he got as many of the old cast members to come back with him as he could. Kyle MacLachlan of course reprises his signature role as Dale Cooper (and then some). Familiar faces like Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer), Richard Beymer (Ben Horne), Kimmy Robertson (receptionist Lucy), Harry Goaz (Deputy Andy), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), James Marshall (James Hurley), and many more likewise step back into their old roles. Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Coulson, both dying of cancer while shooting their scenes, gave their final performances (as Albert Rosenfield and The Log Lady, respectively) for this show and passed away before it premiered. On top of that, Lynch wrangled a monstrously huge list of famous names eager put some face time into appearing in such a legendary series; their participation ranges from walk-on cameos (Michael Cera as Lucy and Andy's eccentric son, Wally Brando) to major new characters (Robert Forster as Sheriff Frank Truman, brother of former sheriff Harry Truman). In many ways, the new Twin Peaks should be any fan's dream reunion.
Nevertheless, even though I've been an obsessive Twin Peaks fan since the original pilot episode aired in April of 1990 and have watched every episode multiples times, I went into the belated third season harboring very mixed feelings. David Lynch had been in a period of unmistakable artistic decline for a number of years, and his last feature film, 2006's Inland Empire, was a three-hour disaster. I couldn't help fearing that anything Lynch touched today would wind up being more like that than the show I fell in love with.
Sadly, many of those concerns felt borne out during the two-hour premiere, which may indulge in some of the original imagery and trot out a handful of old cast members for cameos, but otherwise bears little resemblance to Twin Peaks. The opening episodes have no narrative hook to draw viewers in, no clearly defined story, no appealing new characters and little screen time for the old ones, no emotional involvement, next to no humor, and hardly any of the action in them even takes place in the town of Twin Peaks. The title on screen be damned, whatever this new show was going to be, it wasn't the Twin Peaks I knew. I was heartbroken watching it.
Fortunately, the next couple of episodes start to turn things around a little. Part 3 dives deep into Black Lodge lore and takes Agent Cooper beyond the Red Room for the first time. What he finds is full-blown David Lynch insanity at the director's most whacked-out. It resembles Lynch's experimental short films, told in a form of film grammar entirely his own. No other artist could have made it. Assuming that you come into it fully versed in the mythology of the series, it's pretty fascinating.
Episode 4 is the first to spend any significant time in Twin Peaks itself, and it's the first episode that decidedly feels like Twin Peaks. It brings back some of the quirky deadpan humor that the show was always famous for. More importantly, it's the first episode to have any humanity, which was always the most important core component of the series. Sadly, taking nearly four hours to warm up may be a major failure of conception for the revival, which needed to start on a much stronger note.
The remaining episodes vary wildly in quality. The majority of them are extremely fragmented and structureless. They're inundated with random characters and plot points that go nowhere and serve no purpose other than to fill screen time. An extended comedic subplot is amusing at first, but quickly outstays its welcome and just drags on and on, arguably exceeding the notorious James Hurley road trip from Season 2 as the most misguided Twin Peaks story thread. Worse, Lynch withholds a beloved original character until near the end of the season and completely botches her return, turning her into a shrill parody of her former self and leaving her stranded in a solo storyline that never integrates with anything else.
On numerous occasions, I almost wished that Twin Peaks had never come back at all.
And yet, in other respects, the return of Twin Peaks cannot simply be dismissed outright. For all of its frustrations and flaws, the season is not just a fan-service cash-in. It legitimately continues a story that had been left uncompleted for over two decades, providing certain amounts of closure for storylines and characters that never got it the first time around and further exploring mysteries that seemed like they'd never be resolved. Among other things, we get a concrete answer for what the blue rose means! We actually get to meet Diane! We talk about Judy!
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this new series is what a tremendous showcase it is for Kyle MacLachlan, whose Dale Cooper character is fractured into several personalities, allowing the actor to carve out at least six distinct performances. MacLachlan is phenomenal here. This is his defining role, and he pulls out all the stops for it. The show is also littered with numerous moments of genuine brilliance – sporadic scenes or set-pieces (and one entire episode) that rank among the best David Lynch has ever directed, which is really saying something.
Without question, the highlight of the season is an episode in the middle that should best remain unspoiled, which plays as an hour-long abstract art film and a cumulative expression of David Lynch's entire career rolled into the backdrop of the Twin Peaks universe. While watching it for the first time, I felt like Lynch had just set fire to the entire medium of television storytelling and gleefully danced around the pyre as it burned to the ground. Love it or hate it (and the episode inspired plenty of both types of reaction), the episode is unlike anything that had ever aired on television before or likely ever will again. That it could spring from the mind of a filmmaker who had effectively been retired for a decade (and seemed washed-up even before that) is amazing. The audacity of it is staggering.
At its best, the new Twin Peaks feels like witnessing something totally unprecedented, in which a TV network gave an artist – not "artist" in the coy way we talk about everyone in the entertainment industry, but a genuine creator of challenging and confrontational works of art – a healthy budget and free rein go absolutely bonkers, delivering his uncompromised vision straight from his subconscious to viewers' eyeballs for 18 hours. That's amazing, even revolutionary. David Lynch treats this opportunity as his magnum opus, the summation of his career, and tears loose with it in ways he never could on the original ABC series. What more could any fan possibly ask?
On the other hand, the long, fallow stretches between the good parts often feel interminable. The season could have been condensed to about one-third the number of episodes and played a lot stronger. For this review, I rewatched six episodes, and almost can't imagine ever wanting to revisit the others. The series also concludes with a totally bullshit ending that feels like an insult to anyone who has followed these characters and this story for 27 years. I cannot even begin to express my disappointment at that.
CBS Films and Showtime Entertainment bring the long-delayed third season of David Lynch's cult TV series to Blu-ray in an 8-disc collection called Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. The discs are housed inside a clever box shell that appears to crack open to reveal the three main faces of the Dale Cooper character this season. Inside is a handsome but unwieldy fold-out digipak. Although the artwork is classy, it's also something of a fingerprint magnet.
All eight discs have needlessly loud menus. Per David Lynch's frustrating wishes, none of the episodes have a Scenes Selection menu. Fortunately, they are encoded with chapter stops. The Blu-rays for some of his other projects haven't been that lucky.
When David Lynch first announced that he'd be returning to the town of Twin Peaks, a concern was raised that he'd shoot the series in the type of cruddy standard-definition camcorder video that characterized his short film experiments over the past decade and the excruciating Inland Empire feature. Although he continues to eschew 35mm film (which he has described as "death, death, death") in favor of digital, Lynch at least consented to photograph the revival season in high definition with a cinematographer who'd done good work for him in the past (Peter Deming, of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive).
Showtime's highly-compressed cable broadcasts over the summer looked dull and sometimes impenetrably muddy, but the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode thankfully betters that with a sharp 16:9 picture that has strong black levels and decent colors – at least when Lynch doesn't intentionally switch to black-and-white or weird filter effects to degrade the image. The vibrancy of those colors varies over the course of the season. They really pop in the Las Vegas casino, for example, but are typically much more muted elsewhere.
Despite its sharpness, the photography has a flat, sterile, very digital appearance that doesn't mesh well with the textures of the original TV series. The whole picture is also frequently quite dim, perhaps excessively so. It looks fine by the standards of a modern TV show, and Lynch still manages to craft striking images in a way only he can, but it left me longing for the director's past work.
The opening strains of Angelo Badalamenti's iconic theme music put viewers back in a very comforting place. I wish the rest of the music in the series were so warmly resonant and reverberant, but David Lynch must have instructed the composer to make the majority of the score a low, nondescript drone this time. Unlike the original series, the revival has hardly any memorable new scoring.
On the other hand, the majority of episodes end with a musical performance on stage at the Roadhouse bar, from obscure indie bands to big acts like Nine Inch Nails and Eddie Vedder. Those are all reproduced with excellent fidelity in the Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack.
Lynch is meticulous about his sound design, and the mix here consistently makes interesting (often unsettling) use of ambient sounds, subtle effects, and quietness. It also has big swings in dynamic range. Any given scene can shift from a whisper to a thunderous blare of noise without warning. Bass occasionally digs deep, but mostly resides in the mid-range spectrum.
As is typical for the director, the surround channels are used sparingly, mostly for subtle music bleed and ambience. Lynch decided a while back that he dislikes surround sound that distracts from the action on the screen. Although the rear speakers get more use here than in some of his feature films, they rarely call attention to themselves.
The Blu-ray box set contains a substantial volume of behind-the-scenes material. Unfortunately, much of it is shallow in content and repetitive in nature, if not outright boring. Because David Lynch refuses to ever discuss the meaning of his work, no analysis or insight is offered.
David Lynch's long-delayed return to Twin Peaks is both brilliant and infuriating. From one moment to the next, it can be the most audacious thing to have ever aired on television, or it can be a huge misfire.
Be warned that the revival series makes no allowance whatsoever for the possibility of new viewers picking up the story without being fully schooled on every aspect of Twin Peaks mythology first. Honestly, if you don't know the ins-and-outs of every character arc, plot point, and use of symbolism in both the old show and movie, don't even bother watching. You'll get nothing out of it. At the same time, the show often seems to willfully frustrate and alienate longtime fans too. For that reason, it's very difficult to offer a blanket recommendation to anyone who doesn't already know what they're getting into.
As far as the Blu-ray goes, the 8-disc box set has both strong video and audio. It also comes with a huge volume of behind-the-scenes material that would be more impressive if most of it weren't so dull.