October 1, 2015

MALPASS | The Show That Started It All

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I don’t want to do work; Do you want to do work? Why would you, when we’re in what many call the “golden age of television?” Never mind my classes, I know I have a daunting backlog of shows do get through. I suppose Netflix is partially to blame, that sultry temptress of procrastination and instant gratification. Once we had to wait a week for our fix, now we can binge. I could go on and on about my favorite series, how excited I am for the next season of Peaky Blinders or BBC’s Broadchurch. But instead I’m going to talk about a series that came out a while back, a show unlike anything else you’ll find on Netflix: Twin Peaks.

Why even bring it up? Why, when we have so much to choose from, pick a show that was cancelled over two decades ago after it’s second season? Simply because this David Lynch directed classic was the spiritual ancestor for many of the shows we love today. It was the first of its kind, the show everyone talked about during their work breaks. It popularized the quirky detective, the strange dream sequences, and other tropes we see in television.

It’s hard to categorize Twin Peaks. On the surface, it’s a soap opera with crime show elements. The premise is set around a small logging town rocked by the murder of prom queen Laura Palmer. FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is brought in to assist local law enforcement. I don’t make the soap opera comparison lightly: Prepare for forbidden love, teenage angst, dramatic music and occasionally questionable acting. I know that sounds like a major turnoff, but bear with it, because it gets weird, fast. There’s a dark vein of supernatural horror underlying the all the dramatic campiness. What initially begins as a simple murder investigation soon turns into an entangled mystery of prophetic dreams, Native American myths and secret government investigations. Stick with it long enough and you’ll be treated to a dancing little person in a room of red curtains, a woman who speaks for a log, a one armed man with a strange secret, ancient evil and so much more.

Twin Peaks accomplishes something few others do: It takes the strange, the occult, the downright magical and keeps them that way. So many shows seem to miss out on the point that, as soon as you start explaining magic or show it too often, it ceases to exist. When your parents explained to you that ghosts do not exist or that thunder was simply a natural phenomenon, you lost your fear, right? The concept still applies. Show too much magic, and it swiftly becomes part of the day to day mundane. Twin Peaks understands this. It gives tantalizing hints of something far greater and sinister lurking in the forests of the town, but withholds enough to keep you coming back, pulling you deeper and deeper down it’s rabbit hole.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a show that has no modern equivalent. It’s completely singular. Although we have many high quality shows to choose from, I get the sense many are barreling towards a conclusion. Most modern TV programs would be better described as miniseries. Twin Peaks is a different breed: it sits back and lets the world fold out slowly, forcing us to be patient and enjoy the little details. It wasn’t just about a murder, or one man’s struggle to solve it, but rather a show about a town and the people that inhabit it. To summarize: It built a world, instead of just existing in one. I felt the show could stretch on in perpetuity. At the end of every episode I had more questions than answers.

It could be frustrating, sure, but it was what kept me coming back. It’d be a lie to say I don’t like what’s on now, the gritty action is just starting to get a little, I don’t know, expected. TV shows now move on a linear progression, following the main character from struggle to struggle, while generally ignoring anything outside of that. Much as I love all the shows on now, few offer much beyond the main plot arc. They’re exciting sure, but now that Netflix is pumping out new, equally addicting originals, that model may prove unsustainable.

The last episode is a maddening cliffhanger, but fear not, because Lynch’s episodic masterpiece will return to television in 2017. Thus (almost) fulfilling the prophecy told to the Agent Cooper during the series finale over two decades ago: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Soren Malpass is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at skm94@cornell.edu. Sorenity Now appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

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