In case you didn't know, this year marks 20 years since the original airing of Twin Peaks, arguably still the best series ever created for television. This was UNMISSABLE TV in a way that has never really been realised since. Unmissable not just for plot cliff-hangers but for deeply intriguing characters, stunning cinematography, locations you long to visit and an intoxicating atmosphere that hangs over every scene in a way only transcendental-meditation obsessed weirdo auteur David Lynch could possibly achieve. I once met a girl who had lived in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, and would climb up out of the window of the basement in which she was sheltering from bombs and snipers with her family to run across the road, dive through her neighbour's window and sit glued to the weekly broadcast of Twin Peaks. At this point in time there were civilian casualties every single day in the city.
In many ways, Twin Peaks has hardly aged in the 20 years since its introduction. For me the greatest factor is the location, a small logging town in remote, forested, Northern Washington state where the way of life seems somehow suspended between a fictional 1950s small-town utopia where life revolves around high school football and the local diner, and the contrasting horrors of modern day life, which come crashing into view with the discovery of the death of Laura Palmer. The impact of her death sends not mere ripples but a tropical tsunami through the close-knit community, affecting everyone in different ways and washing away the veneer of tranquillity to reveal drug smuggling, prostitution and gruesome murder on everyone's doorstep. The haunting soundtrack to the series, music by Angelo Badalamenti (see our Soundtracks section), also helps to isolate Twin Peaks in a parallel universe where mainstream popular culture has yet to permeate. The closest we get to popular culture is the cheesy, over-acted soap opera "An Invitation To Love" which pops up on TV sets throughout the first series spookily mirroring the events of Twin Peaks and serving as a touchstone to remind us that we're way outside the comfort zone of "normal" TV here. The rules do not apply.
Many subsequent major TV series have tried to capture the essence that made Twin Peaks special, from the so-confusing-I-can't-be-arsed-to-watch-it-anymore plot twists of Lost to the narrated-by-a-dead-woman-while-uncovering-the-mysterious-circumstances-of-her-disappearance lacklustre attempt at mystery and suspense delivered by Desperate Housewives. Twin Peaks has gone from the radical rethink of the TV series to the blueprint to be emulated and as yet nobody has really been able to capture anything close to the magic that made Twin Peaks so ridiculously compelling. Maybe this is because pretty much all TV series before and since have been hung up on the use of plot techniques, forcing their stories into sharp twists and turns to pique and retain the interest of their followers and losing many of them in the process. Of course Twin Peaks featured twists and turns of plot, but in the deeply involving world of Twin Peaks, the plot is driven not by writers desperate for a cliff-hanger but by incredibly deep characters who push the plot along all by themselves as we gradually discover what makes them tick, their secrets, their indiscretions, unshakable loyalties and old rivalries.
One of my favourite character developments is that of gas station owner Ed Hurley and his wife, the terrifying, eye patch wearing Nadine. From very early on in the series you can sense the unhappiness of their marriage, you start to realise that Ed is still in love with his high school sweetheart Norma Jennings, and you can see the sadness in Norma's eyes that always look as if they could well up within moments if she wasn't so well practised at holding back the flood of tears. Despite the fact that Norma is now faithfully married to local bad-boy Hank you start to wonder why it is that browbeaten Ed stays married to Nadine? While the saga of the silent drape runners unfolds as a window into their dysfunctional relationship with Ed silently putting up with Nadine's mood swings, outbursts and put-downs. Slowly the full picture emerges and finally in the second series Ed breaks down and relates to Agent Cooper the untold and tragic details of how a spur of the moment elopement with Nadine led to half a lifetime of obligation, regret and resentment. The deepest and most mysterious character of the whole series is Laura Palmer, whose public persona of homecoming queen with quarterback boyfriend is drawn back to reveal drug-addicted child rape victim struggling to fight off the dark supernatural influence of Bob. No single person who knew Laura sees her in the same light as another and it is the gradual discovery of the many varied facets of Laura's character which drives the plot of the entire series. That is until the moment when her killer was revealed (reluctantly and under direct pressure from the ABC network - Lynch and Frost would have suspended this moment for much longer given the option) and it's no surprise that once this mystery is brought to its conclusion the series finds it hard to maintain the same momentum.
And that's without mentioning sultry 50s screen sirens Audrey Horne and Donna Hayward, the world's wettest bad boy biker James Hurley, and last but by no conceivable means least the Tibet obsessed, coffee and pie loving FBI Agent Dale Cooper, whose unconventional investigative techniques and affinity for the paranormal propel the series in a bizarre trajectory into the world of spirits, dreams, clairvoyance and the great battle between good and evil, both within each character and throughout their wider world.
When you watch Twin Peaks you don't just watch an episode, you pop in for a visit. Just like outsider Agent Cooper the inhabitants of Twin Peaks become your friends, the locations your escape. You want to buy a house there surrounded by Douglas Firs, eat cherry pie and drink a damn good cup of coffee whenever you feel like it. You can watch the whole series again and again and find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into the shockingly dark and yet effortlessly light-hearted fairy-tale. I will always feel a little bit sad that I can never go back and experience the series when it was first broadcast. With seven days of suspense between instalments I know for a fact that I would have faced snipers and bombs without a second thought to get my weekly fix.