“Who murdered Laura Palmer?”
In the early 1990’s, this was the question that ebbed on the minds of millions of Americans who tuned into ABC on Thursday nights to delve into the television anomaly that was “Twin Peaks.”
The show turned what was considered acceptable in a primetime drama on its head and satisfied a thirst that television audiences hadn’t the faintest idea they even had. However, after much network meddling that dealt a dire blow to the show’s quality, it was cancelled after only two seasons. “Twin Peaks” lived a brief life, but its innovation and influence are still felt on today’s most successful shows.
Homecoming queen Laura Palmer is found murdered and wrapped in plastic on a lakeshore in the sleepy northwestern town of Twin Peaks. An FBI agent is sent to investigate the murder’s ripple effect, uncovering every citizen’s buried secrets that almost always share a connection to the young girl’s murder. Nothing is ever as it seems and no one is completely innocent.
To say that “Twin Peaks” was “out there” is an understatement. The show was unapologetically quirky and arcane. The mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder served only as a driving force to study the small town’s inhabitants, which ranged from coke-dealing high school football players to a woman who received psychic messages from a pine log she carried around like a baby. Every single character had a slant to them that defied every imaginable convention seen on shows of that time.
As the murder investigation carries on, the show becomes darker and even more surreal, delving into the subconscious underbelly of the town. Truly unsettling dream sequences and left-field revelations hold nearly impenetrable clues that serve to both confound and captivate the viewer. The soap opera staples of blackmail, adultery and crime were mixed with a supernatural bent of evil spirits and extrasensory perception, creating an otherworldly and exciting viewing experience.
“Twin Peaks” brought a new cinematic quality to television screens. Breathtaking, theatre-ready cinematography and a truly eerie and memorable musical score created a sense of atmosphere never before seen on a network TV show. Viewers were submerged in the chilly, secretive American Northwest scenery and every episode was an experience unto itself.
The driving mystery captivated America and leisurely yet effectively flowed from week to week, but the show’s very strengths would prove to be its undoing.
Cause of Death
Despite drawing truly gargantuan ratings and causing fervors around water coolers, “Twin Peaks” proved to be too much for the then-conservative ABC network. Executives were nervous that the hunt for Laura Palmer’s killer was taking far too long and that the show was pushing too many boundaries with its increasingly disturbing tone.
Less than 10 episodes into the show’s second season, the network forced the writers to prematurely reveal the identity of the murderer, cutting off any sort of cohesion in the multitude of storylines being told and robbing the show of its former mystique. With the hyped-up secret revealed, America eventually lost interest and the show was swiftly cancelled.
Survived By : HBO Original Programming, “Lost”
Cable TV, including networks like HBO, has opened the door for more artistically adventurous shows in the same vein as Peaks. HBO shows such as “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood” share the cinematic feel of Peaks and follow the beat of their own drums, not falling into any sort of television conventions with their content. “The Sopranos” creator, David Chase, openly cites “Peaks” as a chief inspiration for the now-classic mob epic.
The same can be said for network TV shows such as “Lost,” which offered similar doses of Peaks- flavored surrealism. It was also given time and only makes one wonder what would have happened if Peaks were given a similar chance.
“Twin Peaks” was truly ahead of its time – maybe even by today’s standards- and helped television be seen as a viable artistic medium. The current generation of viewers is reaping the benefits.