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Twin Peaks ushers in the second Golden Age of television

Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) in Twin Peaks.

Well, Twin Peaks, some damn good coffee and a cherry pie.

The cherry pie, to be consumed with a damn fine cup of coffee, arrived at the office on the morning Twin Peaks would rise from the dead, more or less as promised. It’s 26 years since the nightmarish finale of David Lynch’s genre-warping murder mystery, in which a dancing little person speaks backwards and Laura Palmer, the series’ decorative dead girl, turns up to tell FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

In that second, and final, season, Cooper says to the town’s sheriff, “Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” Remember that? Me neither. Twin Peaks, with its spirits, dualities and doppelgängers and a character who gets trapped in a drawer knob, was always mesmerising viewing, but I never had much of a clue what was going on.

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It didn’t matter. It landed in prime time like a grenade, or at least like a significant postmodern moment. It had a narcotic theme song, an unsettling surreality and improbable crime-show dialogue – “I believe I was visited by a giant last night. Twice.” It had the Log Lady’s gnomic pronouncements: “One day my log will have something to say about this.” It had the most billboard-ready, plastic-wrapped, fetishised female corpse in television history. Not even The Bridge’s cadaver made of two women cut in half could beat “Who killed Laura Palmer?” And it was free to air.

Twin Peaks did take us somewhere strange and wonderful: into the second Golden Age of television. The Sopranos didn’t come along until 1999, but the mark of Twin Peaks was upon it – see the episode where Christopher and Paulie get lost in the woods. The series influenced endless investigations into the weirdness and simmering psychosis beneath the Rockwell-esque normality of hometown America, from Northern Exposure to The X-Files, Fargo and Riverdale. Twin Peaks could always be seen as a parable of the American New Eden after the fall.

We can also blame Lynch for a long tradition of esoteric entertainments – Heroes, Lost, True Blood, etc – that seemed to have been produced by amateur mystics who had ingested something hallucinogenic and then kept on typing until they passed out.

And now, as the promos remind us, it’s happening again. The owls are still, possibly, not what they seem. What exactly is happening? Two hours in, par for the course, I have no idea. Good Agent Cooper is trapped in the purgatorial Red Room of the Black Lodge, with its migraine-inducing floor pattern, as his evil doppelgänger Killer Bob – Cooper with longer hair and black contact lenses – murders all and sundry. “I don’t need anything,” says Bob, “I want.”

Meanwhile, a body in South Dakota turns out to be, yes, made of the head of a female librarian and the body of a big hairy man. “Uh oh,” says a cop. Who killed Ruth Davenport? There’s a long scene where a man takes delivery of shovels.

WTF? Still, it’s a thrill to hear the old theme – Falling – and to see old faces. The actress who played the Log Lady, Catherine Coulson, died soon after filming. “I’m too weak to go with you,” she tells Deputy Hawk. “Please, let me know what happens.”

The Log Lady’s log is the only character who says anything that makes any sense: “My log has a message for you,” she informs Hawk. “Something is missing and you have to find it.”

So far, so slow, weird and maddening. But I’m in. Timing is all and Lynch’s is always good. His broken, possessed America struggles to be more surreal than the real thing. It’s like we’re all trapped in a red-curtained room in an episode of something incomprehensible. It might as well be Twin Peaks.

Twin Peaks, Sky SoHo, Monday, 8.30pm.

This article was first published in the June 3, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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