Judge Sternwood: So, Agent Cooper, how are you finding our little corner of
Cooper: It’s heaven, sir.
Judge S.: Well, this week heaven includes arson, multiple homicide, and an
attempt on the life of a Federal agent.
Cooper: Heaven is a large and interesting place, sir!
I’ve never been a fan of soap operas, or at least not the ‘kitchen sink’ soaps that are popular in this country – I have no particular gripe against ‘Coronation Street’ or ‘East Enders’; they are just not my cup of tea. In fact all of the UK ‘soaps’ are a positive triumph of human artistic endeavour when set alongside the tsunami of ‘reality’ shows and ‘minor celebrities doing something stupid’ shows that have been foisted on us in the name of entertainment of late. Britain may have talent, but most of it seems to be choosing not to work in television these days.
It’s all so different to 20 or so years ago, when people like Alan Bleasdale and the late Troy Kennedy Martin were working in TV and producing work of the highest calibre, too. The BBC can be justifiably proud of the fact that within the space of a few years they brought us ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’ and then ‘Edge of Darkness’. Not that these were soaps or even in competition with soaps, but they were intelligent, original dramas which both (BFTB overtly, EOD more obliquely) had plenty to say about the grim and unpleasant realities of living under a Tory regime. Something to ponder as the country prepares to elect its first Tory government for many years….
Anyway, right at the end of the 1980’s, I remember skimming through the Arts section of ‘The Guardian’ one Saturday and chancing upon a brief fluff piece about movie director David Lynch, all of which seemed designed to provide ‘The Guardian’ with an opportunity to run a competition where they could give away video copies of Lynch’s latest project, a 90-minute pilot for a new television series called ‘Twin Peaks’. I don’t remember what the questions in the competition were exactly, but they were laughably easy – something like ‘Name two other films made by David Lynch’ or something on that level.
For once, I got my act together and entered, which wasn’t just a case of firing off a quick e-mail; this was 1989, so it was an ‘Answers on a postcard’–type event. A few weeks later, completely unannounced, a Jiffy bag arrived containing the ‘Twin Peaks’ video. The front cover was an artist’s rendition of a battered Ronette Polowski walking across the railway bridge after a night out where she got rather more than she bargained for. Then again, I think we all got more than we bargained for with ‘Twin Peaks’
At this point, ‘Twin Peaks’ had started its US run, but here it was just a rumour. Lynch working in TV? What’s he up to? He must be broke or something….and so on.
By the time I finished watching the pilot I’d heard that the BBC had picked up the series for UK broadcast and I could not wait for it to start. I’d already become entranced by the repertory of quirky and idiosyncratic residents with which Lynch had chosen to populate his soap opera town – and I wanted to know more!
One of the many great things about ‘Twin Peaks’ is that it will repay as much thought and analytical legwork as you care to put into it. It works on so many different levels; as a straight murder mystery, as a pastiche of soap operas and, increasingly, as a metaphysical quest for truth and goodness in the face of a host of sinister and negative forces.
A bunch of us began to gather on Tuesday nights to watch the first series, revelling in the quirkiness of characters like Nadine, Andy Brennan and The Log Lady. There were other touches as well – a Sheriff called Harry Truman, the whole fetishism over coffee, doughnuts & cherry pie, the comedy romance of Andy & Lucy. All of this made the sub ‘West Side Story’ posturing of Leo, Bobby and James Hurley easier to cope with. However, increasingly, the cry at the end of each episode was ‘What d’you think he (Lynch) meant by that?’
Then of course, people began to dig a little deeper in their search for answers.
Whilst no-one on this side of the Atlantic could necessarily claim any expertise in the matter, didn’t it just seem that the teenagers of Twin Peaks, led by their now-deceased Homecoming Queen were paddling in waters that were surely far too dangerous and murky for such a remote town? And that very remoteness became an issue in itself…Twin Peaks, stuck away up near the Canadian border, surrounded by the woods where unpleasant things could happen at nights. The Great Outdoors suddenly began to seem somewhat claustrophobic…
For all the small-town stereotypes like Dr Hayward and Big Ed Hurley and the gals at the diner, you suspected that Twin Peaks was a place where the skin of the world was stretched thin enough to dimly discern some other possible realities, a place where something else was always trying to break through. Lynch sprinkled the town with his own particularly weird brand of fairy dust and suddenly, anything seemed possible…
Of course, the implied weirdness running just below the surface in Twin Peaks became much more overt after the Laura Palmer murder had been solved, but by then, Lynch and Co were authors in search of a new plot and they exposed much of that intrinsic weirdness in their attempts to find one. In the end, it may or may not have been great drama, but no-one could argue with the high level of bizarre and inexplicable occurrences with which we were presented on a weekly basis. The question remains: on prime-time American TV, how did he get away with it for so long?
To be continued…….