Twin Peaks returns: Cult series back 25 years on

After Dallas and its “who shot JR?” storyline, the launch of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s 1990 series, which followed the investigation into who killed Twin Peaks homecoming queen Laura Palmer, was cult television which had its devotees cluster in groups to discuss the previous night’s weirdness.

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S Truman investigated the murder of Laura Palmer. Picture: Channel 5
FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S Truman investigated the murder of Laura Palmer. Picture: Channel 5

The programme, which ran for just two series, but which many believe has influenced countless shows since, followed the investigation of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper – a man who liked a good cup of coffee – and Sheriff Harry S Truman while also exposing the gulf between the veneer of small town respectability and its seedy under layer.

Indeed as the series progressed – sometimes venturing into the supernatural and definitely never far from unsettlingly creepy – almost every character who appeared innocent was revealed to be leading a double life.

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At its height it was even inspiring university seminars on the meaning of it all. Rick Instrell, then a film studies lecturer at Edinburgh University, would discuss the Jungian psychotherapy influences of the show at his The Owls Are Not What They Seem events. The former teacher from Pathhead even went so far as to call it “endlessly fascinating, the best TV I’ve ever seen” while the Peak Freaks who attended his events were “the sort of people I could spend time with on a desert island”.

Of course, like all cult shows, it ended without being fully resolved which just added to its appeal – which is why brooches and bags with Twin Peak slogans still sell out quickly whenever they come into stock at the Hannah Zakari store in Candlemaker Row.

So when this week it was announced that a third series is to be made next year by Lynch and Frost in the show’s 25th anniversary year, the Peakies or Peak Freaks, came out of the woodwork to declare their never-ending fascination with the show.

Like Dr David Sorfa, senior lecturer in film studies at Edinburgh University, who admits to being a total fan. “I was an undergraduate when it came out at the university of Cape Town and we only managed to get to see it because someone would send up episodes on VHS tape every couple of weeks. It was pre-internet days but we knew this was having a major impact around the world. We couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next – especially because there really was no way to tell.”

He adds: “Twin Peaks had this bizarre detective storyline and was also deeply emotional. Then there was the music which was hyper-emotional and melodramatic. And then there was the contrasts which Lynch does so well. He makes it look beautiful but underneath there’s something rotten – gambling, prostitution and drugs.”

The style of it was certainly an attraction for Solen Collet, who has been so fascinated since school that when she was studying photography at Stevenson College she took a series of staged pictures based on Twin Peaks scenes which were later exhibited in a city cafe.

“I watched the show religiously as a schoolkid and every morning after an episode that’s all anyone spoke of in the playground,” she laughs. “It was unique television, totally gripping, completely daft and sinister in equal measure.

“I loved the music, the styling, the characters, dialogue, sets, everything about it. I’ve watched it a few times since and you notice so many different things in it each time.”

She adds: “My Twin Peaks- inspired photos were produced a few years back for a college project and it’s an idea I’ve been meaning to develop further. Maybe all this talk of the show will inspire me to make time to progress with that. I’m excited to see it return to television, it’ll be interesting to see if it seems as innovative or terrifying after so many years.”

At the moment all that’s known is that Lynch and Frost are writing the nine new episodes and Lynch will direct them all – and that hopefully some of the original cast will star.

According to fan Lindsey Bowden, the venue manager with Assembly Festival, Twin Peaks was rare television. “It had a huge impact, especially on those who weren’t so aware of Lynch’s work through his films,” she says. “There was nothing like it on TV at that time. His fans watched it, and those who hadn’t seen anything like it really loved it. It became a popular and critical success, which is why it’s remained so popular.”

Lindsey, who runs an annual Twin Peaks Festival in London every November, adds: “I actually didn’t want it to come back, I didn’t think you could recapture that magic, but given that Lynch is behind it, it could be brilliant and it’s generating such a buzz.

“I was 14 when it came out, watching it in my room, totally fascinated but not really understanding it. It just captivated me and of course I’ve watched it many times since. It has had worldwide impact, and we get people from all over the UK but also from eastern Europe and America come to the festival. It had a huge reach.”

Merchandise also played a part as it was one of the first series to market Special Agent Cooper’s cassette recordings – he always spoke into a dictaphone – and copies of Laura Palmer’s diary, as well as slogan T-shirts. Lindsey sells David Lynch coffee at her festival.

But it’s the writing and directing which make it stand the test of time, says Dr Sorfa. “Lynch didn’t direct much of the second series and it lost its way. Now he’s back to show us how it should have been done – to save us from the Black Lodge.

“And because he’s so good at creating coherent worlds we’ll be able to step back into Twin Peaks with no problems.

“It was a real event at the time, and this new series will be an even bigger one. I can’t wait.”

Written off before screening

BEFORE its two-hour pilot premiered in America, Twin Peaks was already being written off as being uncommercial, too radically different from what viewers expected, and no real hero or heroine. It was also up against the bar sitcom Cheers.

But it proved a major hit, 34.6 million watched the pilot in the US – and even in the UK although it was screened late at night and moved around the schedules its cult following grew.

In fact, for its first season it received 14 nominations at the Emmys. At the Golden Globes it hit success winning Best TV Series – Drama, while Kyle MacLachlan won Best Actor in a TV Series and Piper Laurie won best supporting actress.