How is it possible that, a nation that was so crazy about Twin Peaks in the early nineties, that came to work tired, that discussed over their morning coffee something that would later turn out to be not only a masterpiece but a turning point in TV show history- those same people, who understood Lynch completely, only seem to be able to handle an evening sketch today?
Through the darkness of the future past
the magician longs to see
one chance out between two worlds
fire walk with me
A bus from Novi Sad to Sremski Karlovci is filled with high-school students- some going over their homework, some gossiping, gushing about love interests and going over what happened “last night”. Some of them are singing- The Beatles, Bon Jovi, early nineties pop, EKV, The Cure- but not one folk song. Milica and me have our own topics to go over. It’s the spring of ’91- we still live in Yugoslavia, unaware that the federation won’t last until summer break. Politics entered our lives a long time ago. Being well informed and “grown-up”, we already declared ourselves to be part of the opposition, angry about not being old enough to vote in the first multi-party elections. Not your typical teenage girls. And then, around April that same year, something else came into our lives- a new topic, a fascination, a hype- Twin Peaks.
It was a time before cell phones, the internet, torrents, decades before “binge watching” was a thing, when you could only read about actors and TV shows in magazines (if you’re lucky- foreign ones). When VHS ruled, and television- with only about three channels- played quality movies and TV shows in primetime, for ratings. The TV stations of Yugoslavia competed in having the best news, shows, movies and series- so TV Novi Sad (at the same time as TV Ljubljana) had an ace up their sleeve. They had bought the rights to play a show the whole word was buzzing about, the masterpiece of Mark Frost and David Lynch. The series was part of their night program- it was on after the evening news and broadcasts from the parliament, so it would often start well after midnight. That was possible, at the time- for a whole nation to stay up, waiting for addictive but quality program. How is it possible, that a nation that was crazy about Twin Peaks in the early nineties, that came to work tired, that discussed over their morning coffee something that would later turn out to be not only a masterpiece but a turning point in TV show history- those same people, who understood Lynch completely, only seem to be able to handle an evening sketch today?
What’s the catch?
What made Twin Peaks so special? There were many popular TV series at the time that would “empty the streets”, so to speak- for example, Dynasty in the mid eighties. The streets would be empty on Monday, it was all anyone would talk about on Tuesday, there was complete fascination with this luxury, this other world, the beautiful women (the hairstyles of Crystal and Alexis were widely copied), the intrigue (Who’s the father, where’s the illegitimate daughter). Then came a TV series of our own, “Bolji Zivot” (A Better Life), then Return to Eden, North and South, Lace, there was Payton Place a bit before, Dallas (interestingly enough, this one never really stuck). However, all of these are now just relics of TV history- except Twin Peaks. It seems like it was with us all along. How did Lynch and Frost manage to make us quite so crazy?
When thinking of possible scenario for a project with the working title Northwest Passage, movie director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Dune, The Elephant Man), who has never worked on TV before, and Mark Frost (who wrote the popular police drama Hill Street Blues) drew up a map of a small, made up town in the northwest of the United States, with a population of 51.200 people. They called it Twin Peaks. It was a great idea- until then, most crime shows were set in urban surroundings, while soap operas and family dramas took place on luxury estates or typical American homes. The ones that did venture outside of these surroundings mostly went to sunny California or remote Texas towns. This was different: a small town with a lumber mill, a fascinating waterfall, surrounded by pine trees, in the middle of nowhere, a bit cold and gloomy (there was not one ray of sunshine in the pilot episode), and the following: a small police station, a typical but dreamy American diner with pretty servers and lots of black coffee and pie, a gas station and a few houses (some wealthier than others), the aforementioned lumber mill. After deciding on the location, Lynch and Frost worked on the genre- it was to be crime story, a whodunit with supernatural elements, just bordering on sci-fi (as not to scare off the viewers who prefer a more realistic approach, but still enough to make it more than just another detective story), it would have intrigue and melodrama ( just enough to catch the interest of those who like it), there would elements of soap operas (but just enough not to scare off those who don’t like them), there would be comic relief, humorous comebacks and set-ups (“Fellas, don’t drink that coffee! You’d never guess. There was a fish in the percolator!”).
The main storyline revolved around the murder of the homecoming queen and perfect girl-next-door Laura Palmer, but not just that. The story of “who killed Laura Palmer” led us to fall in love with a story of adventures and mishaps of a number of small town residents. It was a story of the eerie and terrifying Bob (whenever I watch episodes three and nine, where Bob shows up, I still feel uneasy when turning off the light), the hilarious Lucy and Andy. The mysteriously beautiful Josie, the typical bad guy Leo Johnson, the charming Pete Martell and his wicked wife Catherine, the diabolical Jerry Horne, alluring Audrey, doctor Jacoby who’s exactly what you’d imagine a parody of a psychiatrist to be, the frantic and all too strange Nadine and her benevolent husband Ed- who’s in love with the beautiful Norma, then, out of nowhere, a lady carrying a log. It’s a story in which Dale Cooper, the seemingly likable, completely atypical, never-before-seen kind of agent, both brilliant and kind of a weirdo- trusts the forensic methods of the genius Albert Rosenfield just as much as the clues he gets from a giant in his dreams. Images of a bloody crime interweave with those of donuts and steaming cups of coffee. One scene will have you frozen with fear, the other dying of laughter. There’s also the unforgettable music of Angelo Badalamenti- so different from what we were used to hearing in TV shows until then.
Half the job – cast and crew
After writing the pilot episode, Lynch and Frost jumped to what’s usually considered “half the job”- choosing the cast. They stuck with the well known rule when it comes to TV shows: no big names or famous faces, so the public can identify with the characters completely, fall in love with them and believe they exist, somewhere. It’s an old trick. Lynch made the exception of casting some of his regulars- Kyle MacLachlan, Grace Zabriski, Jacka Nance and Everett McGill (all fantastic character actors who, with the exception of Kyle who starred in Blue Velvet, were not as well known) and a couple of cult stars from the 60’s and 70’s- Richard Beymer and Russ Tumblyn (Tony and Riff from West Side Story) and Piper Laurie (Carrie). He planned out one role for his wife at the time, Isabella Rossellini. The character was Giovanna Gio Pasqualini Packard, but their divorce probably led the role to go to Chinese actress Joan Chen (famous for Bertolucci The Last Emperor) as Josie Packard.
The rest of the cast was the brilliant work of Lynch and his accomplice Joanna Ray- the way they did the casting could easily serve as a guide to many directors. The actors would talk about how, at his auditions, you don’t do readings, you just talk to him- the actors’ personality was crucial, and sometimes it would even be enough to see a photo or catch a glimpse of someone on the street, as he did with Harry Goaz- he saw him in a parking lot and after realizing he was an actor, gave him the role of the teary sheriff’s deputy.
Sheryl Lee, a girl from Seattle, was supposed to play the dead Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, as well as a few picnic scenes with Don, but her charisma fascinated Lynch so much that he decided to keep her (for the flashbacks) and even wrote her a new role- the victim’s niece Medeleine Ferguson from Missoula (the director’s home town). The role is a sort of homage to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (she plays both a blonde and a brunette, as did Kim Novak).
Another interesting story is Frank Silva’s- an actor who worked as a set dresser in between roles and ended up working on Twin Peaks. While filming the pilot episode, in which Sara Palmer has a vision, Frank was on set and ducked under the couch as not to get on film. However, you could see his reflection in the mirror, and Lynch thought his appearance was interesting. The rest was history. Frank Silva became Killer Bob, the most famous villain in TV history. His colleagues used to say he was an extremely gentle, caring person, and a wonderful colleague.
Al Strobel also got a role by accident- he was only supposed to leave the hospital elevator as an homage to The Fugitive, but he left such a good impression that he was written a new role- the one of Bob’s “colleague”, Mike (The one armed man).
Lynch himself would always say that these coincidences and unpredictable situations on set should be embraced, so the blinking lightbulb in the room where Cooper saw Laura Palmer’s body for the first time was just there because they didn’t want to wait for it to be changed, and it turned out to be a great way to show that in a small town hospital, things don’t always work perfectly. All in all, the cast was such a powerful team of amazing actors and characters, with literally no weak spot, where the smallest roles and even extras became memorable characters. The audience fell in love, but even if IMDB shows that most of them had various roles in the years after Twin Peaks, none of them really became a star.
Not even Sherilyn Fenn, who was my favorite. With the global obsession with her beauty, charm, and talent, it seemed like the A list was just around the corner (it even was, for a while, with roles in Boxing Helena, Ruby, and the Liz Taylor biopic), but she just kind of faded away. Kyle was the exception, of course, and went on to star in two more popular shows- Sex and The City and Desperate Housewives (Sheryl Lee even did the pilot for Desperate housewives as Mary Alice Young, but was replaced with Brenda Strong).
The pilot episode of Twin Peaks aired on April 8th 1990 on ABC. It was a Thursday night, which was less than ideal, especially since Cheers, which was very popular at the time, was on at the same time. The broadcasters were not very confident, but a miracle happened: the ratings went through the roof, and Twin Peaks obsession began.
Milica and me are completely fascinated, and Twin Peaks is all we talk about. We even got the soundtrack (on tape). My favorite is “Audrey’s dance”. “Isn’t it dreamy?”, she says, I play it nonstop and twirl around the house, imagining I’m her. I wear a checkered shirt and a sweater to school.
Later that summer, I got a puppy. Of course, we named it Audrey Horne, after my favorite TV heroin.
Who killed Laura Palmer?
In the meantime, Lynch occupies us with complicated plot lines, red herrings and possible suspects. Milica and I have a multitude of theories: Was it the shrink? No, he’s too weird. What about Leo? Noo, that would be too obvious. Ben Horne, too. We follow the logic of Agatha Christie: it’s always the person you least suspect… Maybe Donna and James? They’re such goody-two-shoes. Why did the first episode open with a close-up of Josie Packard? No, no, she’s definitely up to something, but she’s no murderer. Aside from the big question, we’re interested in what’ll happen with the mill, if Ed will leave Nadine for Norma, if Leo will uncover the infidelities of his sweetheart and teenage heartthrob Bobby, what the Horne brothers and Catherine are up to, what the Log Lady knows, who shot Cooper, who Bob is…..and then- massive spoiler!!! A few days before the mysterious murder was about to be resolved, someone who knows someone, who knows someone who already watched Twin Peaks in the US, told someone from a local radio station who thought I’d be smart to talk about it on air. What a ridiculous idea! I wasn’t listening to the show when they announced it, but a friend told me. I decided not to tell Milica, not to ruin it for her, and I myself wanted to believe it wasn’t true. In the end, even when if I knew Leland Palmer was the killer- the episode was no less exciting. It’s Lynch, after all! Because, as it turns out, the killer is and isn’t Laura’s father. It’s Bob. After all, this is no ordinary detective story, and is not a typically surreal setup. It’s Twin Peaks. Nothing is ordinary.
There was mystery even within the film crew. Lynch and Frost filmed two versions of the scene where Medeleine Ferguson was murdered (in which we find out who the killer is). They filmed it with both Ray Wise (Leland) and Richard Beymer (Ben Horne), and nobody knew which one was going to make it to the final cut. They didn’t want to let the info leak. Allegedly, Wise was disappointed when he found out his character was the one who did it. When Catherine Martell was declared missing in season one, she returned in season two disguised as a Japanese businessman- it was a shock for both Ben Horne and the viewers. It was important too keep the idea a secret, so Piper Laurie’s name was removed from the credits, and she would arrive on set in full disguise. She couldn’t even let her family know about it, and was introduced to the crew as an actor from Kurosawa’s set, who couldn’t speak English very well. Only with Lynch.
The end. Or is it?
When the main plot was resolved, Lynch and Frost didn’t know where to take the show next.
Lynch, supposedly, was against revealing the killer at all, but Frost was. The network pressured him into it, as viewers were becoming impatient and ratings were in danger. Finally, in the seventh episode of season two, the Palmer case was solved. And then everything started to fade….we still loved the show and the characters, but something was missing.
Pointless and bizarre setups were piling up, unnecessary and uninteresting characters, soapy twists and turns, contrived humor… And worst of all, agent Cooper and Audrey, their simmering romance and the irresistible chemistry between MacLachlan and Fenn- fell through. What a disappointment! They were both forcefully lumped with new love interests. She got Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane), while Cooper was paired up with the inconspicuous girl-next-door Annie (Heather Graham). Milica and I, we managed to stomach Jack, but Annie???
Years later, we found out who was to blame. The Cooper-Horne story was a done deal, and she was to be taken away, as a punishment to Coop, by Window Earle. The writers have already finished the story when MacLachlan decided that the good-hearted and honest agent would never get involved with a teenager, so they gave up. Blah, blah. It was much simpler- an insecure, jealous woman was behind it all. Lara Flynn Boyle- who played Donna and was dating Kyle at the time- didn’t get along well with Sherillyn (or as it turns out, the whole crew). A jealous girl can destroy even a good storyline.
The second season was sluggishly coming to an end, then came summer break and, when in the last episode Cooper turned to a mirror and asked “How’s Annie?”, and Bob’s grinning face appeared on the other side, nobody really cared anymore. The networked cancelled the show, and we were left with a few cliffhangers. The end. Or is it?
The magic of Twin Peaks remained- each rerun were watched with religious devotion.
It is happening again. Indeed.
Milica and me grew up, finished college, started our careers, went our own ways. Film and television became my profession, I starred in TV shows, some of which I’m very proud of. In a Croatian show I played in, there was a line aimed at my character that said “You know, that BIA agent looks a lot like Lara Flynn Boyle…“ I’m still dreaming of a character like the ones Lynch created.
And then, in 2015, 25 years after the pilot episode aired- Breaking news! Twin Peaks is coming back!!! Could it be? The crew is coming back together. The producers, after unsuccessful negotiations with Lynch and Frost (as well as issues with the budget), wanted to start without them. How would that be possible? But then the cast complained and even made a video- “Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like….” a man without a mustache, a town without a church….It’s just not gonna work! And they did a good job, they got them on board! Lynch directed all 18 episodes.
These two high school girls are ready for a comeback. Milica’s making the pie, and I’m in charge of the coffee and the behind-the-scenes trivia.
IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN! WELCOME TO TWIN PEAKS…