‘Twin Peaks,’ A Cultural Phenomenon: Part Three
By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
By the summer of 1991, the phenomenon that was Twin Peaks had flamed out – it’s once top-10 success in the ratings and buzz worthiness of the first season was relegated to bad time slots and bad storylines, ranking as low as No. 85 out of 89 broadcast shows. The two-hour series finale, which were just the last two episodes unceremoniously dumped to air in the doldrums of summer, went without much of a peep. The cliffhanger(s) finale left many questions that would appear to go unanswered as a third season was not in the cards… that is until wind of a theatrical movie started making the rounds. Indeed, Twin Peaks was going to go the route of another cult favorite show that was yanked (Star Trek) and land on the big screen. Interviews even hinted that if the film was successful, it could usher in a franchise of features, exactly like what Star Trek did.
So, the future was bright again for Peakers… but like the owls, things didn’t turn out the way they seemed.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the subtitle originating from an entry in Laura Palmer’s (Sheryl Lee) diary from the series, would be directed by creator David Lynch without the constraints of television network censors. Many of the show’s regulars would return: Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick and the aforementioned Sheryl Lee would mix it up with newcomers David Bowie, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Harry Dean Stanton and Moira Kelly (who would replace Lara Flynn Boyle, who declined to reprise her pivotal role of Donna Hayward). But the first signs of trouble would also come from this early casting news: series tentpole characters such as Benjamin and Audrey Horne were nowhere to be found, and others such as fan favorite Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) was reduced to a cameo that could have been left out of the movie entirely.
That last bit makes a little sense as Fire Walk With Me is a prequel to the series, focusing mainly on the events leading up to Laura Palmer’s murder – starting a year earlier with a side character that fans of the series never even saw: Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley). The unfortunate end to Teresa’s character leads into Laura Palmer’s downward spiral and the majority of the film follows the last seven days of her life. Sadly, those last seven days feels like an eternity as we are treated to scene after scene of Laura doing drugs, freaking out, screaming and self destructing – and those are always difficult to watch for a character we were initially supposed to feel sorry for in the series premiere. Of course, she is still a victim in all of this, but there is a big difference between just hearing about her destructive behavior and actually seeing it: watching her character go from being traumatized to completely unlikeable is not how I want my memories of the Twin Peaks High School Prom Queen to be. Jettisoned character Benjamin Horne, who had deep questionable ties to Laura during this period in her life, is absent from the film, which makes it all the more unsettling. Add to that and the weird, blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by Annie Blackburn (Heather Graham) only makes me wish what I was watching was a continuation of the series as opposed to watching a bunch of stuff that I already knew about. By the time the climatic ending of the film, and Laura Palmer’s character, came about, I felt less dramatically moved as I did that I was glad it was almost finally over.
Behind the scenes, Kyle MacLachlan was worried about being typecast and originally declined to appear as Agent Cooper, but changed his mind when there was a possibility of a recast – hence him appearing in a very reduced role. But the decision to make this a prequel was made with the idea of Cooper not being involved, which is why the film totally shoehorned him into the movie in an insignificant role. The original cut of the film ran over five hours so a lot of scenes involving series regulars were trimmed, leaving Peggy Lipton and Madchen Amick with very incidental screentime and others like Michael Ontkean’s Sheriff Truman character completely cut out after he filmed many scenes for the movie – including a key one at the very end of the film that acts as a prologue to the series finale. Many of these deleted scenes, including that creepy Agent Cooper bathroom scene, are available on the Blu-ray boxed set that was released in 2014.
Depending on who you ask, there are rumors that are still around to this day that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was laughed and/or booed off the screen at film festival screenings. The movie was clearly not want many fans wanted or expected. Even though Lynch directed it, gone were the lighthearted quirky moments that the series was known for and replaced with dread and general unpleasantness. Speaking as a huge fan of the series who suffered through the disastrous middle of the second season, this movie is a chore to watch. Despite what a few actors said in press interviews prior to release claiming that anyone – old fans and newcomers alike – could jump right in and enjoy it, you absolutely had to know your Twin Peaks lore to watch and understand the film – and I use the term “understand” pretty loosely.
New Line Cinema released the film in the fall of 1992 to theaters and was met with horrible box office returns, grossing only $1.8 million in its opening weekend – a miniscule amount for a known franchise. It was clear that Star Trek, this was not. And with sour note, Twin Peaks would simply fade off into it’s own Black Lodge, seemingly forever.
Twin Peaks, it turns out, helped launch a seemingly unrelated movie years later. A proposed spinoff featuring Audrey Horne’s character from the series never came to light, but its basic story elements provided the foundation for 2001’s critically successful film Mulholland Drive. And the star of that film, Naomi Watts, is part of the cast of…
THAT GUM YOU LIKE IS COMING BACK IN STYLE
Fast forward to 2015: the success of the Blu-ray boxed set of the series and movie started talks of a Twin Peaks revival for the following year – some 25 years since the show ended its run in 1991. We live in a bizarre time in which everything old is new again: shows like 24, The X-Files, Prison Break, and even Full House have returned in some form or another to great success, giving hope that Twin Peaks can follow suit. Filming began in 2016 in the Pacific Northwest with a large portion of the original cast back, and David Lynch directing all 18 episodes that indeed pick up at the end of the original series. Sadly, some of the key cast – including Frank Silva who played the demonic Killer BOB – passed away prior to the reboot, so how the show will fill in those blanks are anyone’s guess… but it makes for very intriguing possibilities.
Never before has a franchise experienced such a roller coaster like Twin Peaks did. Starting out as a monster hit on major network television, forever etching the question “Who Killed Laura Palmer” into pop culture history, to its slow death spiral in the second season, to the movie that to many was so disappointing that it was offensive… Twin Peaks has experienced it all. Add to that now that it is making an unprecedented comeback a full two and a half decades later, and the story continues to be as weird and delicious as Cherry Pie from the Double R Diner.
Premium cable channel Showtime is airing all 18 episodes of “Season Three” beginning in May, and you can bet that fans willing to put away any bad memories will be ready to welcome the show back with open arms. I’m one of them, and it’s safe to say I’m ready to return to the world of Twin Peaks once more.