From the moment it aired on April 8, 1990, Twin Peaks caused a sensation with its surrealistic foray into melodrama and quirky character studies. Now considered a cult classic, Lynch's groundbreaking series has left an indelible mark on serialized television.
Before working on Twin Peaks, David Lynch had already experienced success as a cinematic auteur with the acclaimed films The Elephant Man (1980) and Blue Velvet (1986). At the behest of his agent, Tony Krantz, Lynch agreed to make the move to television bringing on writing partner Mark Frost to create an bizarre and honest interpretation of small town America, similar in feel to Blue Velvet. The idea was to present the viewer with multiple plot arcs within a contained area that could perpetually draw from the many puzzling characters who inhabited that space, which eventually evolved into the Twin Peaks story-scape. Despite being commonplace in serial dramas today, the idea of a multi-arc narrative, at that time, had scarcely been explored. With little more than this rough idea, Lynch pitched the show to ABC who liked it and ordered a pilot.
Opening with the eerily unsettling theme "Falling" by composer Angelo Badalamenti, the pilot episode presented the small town murder of popular high schooler and homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. At once, the town comes alive, interactions with the residents hinting at hidden idiosyncrasies in their character juxtaposing against the scenic backdrop of sleepy Twin Peaks. Special Agent Dale Cooper, a lovably neurotic outsider, takes on the FBI investigation of the case and with the guidance of Sheriff Harry S. Truman, grows to appreciate the cherry pie, coffee and charm of the town. Here's his first meeting with the sultry teen, Audrey Horne:
Despite the pretense of the crime investigation, at its heart Twin Peaks is a character study of the sometimes outrageous but oftentimes all too familiar inhabitants of the town. It is in their indiscretions, scandals, crimes, urges and weaknesses that the story truly lies. In a writeup following a showing of the pilot, New York Times critic John O'Connor wrote, "Twin Peaks is not a sendup of the form. Mr. Lynch clearly savors the standard ingredients...but then the director adds his own peculiar touches, small passing details that suddenly, and often hilariously, thrust the commonplace out of kilter."
Without the revolutionary vision shaping Twin Peaks, modern TV drama would not be as it is today. What Lynch did was give television, as a form, the right to explore. From the banal to the metaphysical, dramas no longer had to rely on tired narrative standards or linear progressions and could instead put emphasis on concept and experimentation. Twenty years later, with scripted television offering the best lineup of shows in recent memory, it is only fitting to pay tribute to the one of the most innovative series to hit the small screen.