An admission: the first series of Twin Peaks was slightly lost on me. I was 10 when it first aired; by the time I got around to watching it properly, the shock had been weakened.
I was missing out on its proper historical context. I wasn’t watching in the age it was made, when just a handful of channels churned out endless conventional dramas to a guaranteed audience of millions. But, more importantly, its influence had been too well absorbed into the mainstream. All the new ground David Lynch broke in 1990 had been aped and refined endlessly over the years, so it didn’t feel like I was witnessing anything particularly new.
However, the Twin Peaks revival is perfect. I’m in deep with it. It’s easily the best series of the year so far. And, although this might seem like heresy to long-time fans, I think it might actually be better than the original.
Lynch is at his best when it feels as if he’s drowning you, when he mounts such an assault of unconnected sights and noises that you momentarily lose all sense of place. In that regard, I’m a slightly apologetic Inland Empire fan. Yes, it’s half an hour too long. Yes, it’ll be a while until I can build up a big enough head of steam to watch it all again. But that film is a three-hour panic attack. About halfway through, you realise that it’s pointless to follow the plot, so you disconnect and let the rest of it play out like the nightmare screensaver it is.
This is the Lynch who’s made the new Twin Peaks. The conventions that tied him to formal network TV drama have been absolutely brutalised here. The first handful of episodes, in particular, felt like a deliberate line in the sand, like a direct challenge to keep watching. The violence was ugly. The scenes were all twice as long as they needed to be. There was a talking tree, an empty box. There was a long, glitchy sequence in which Dale Cooper interacted with an eyeless woman in space, with a soundtrack that made it feel like you were covered in insects. It was the most purely Lynchian sequence of an incredibly Lynchian career, and you can only imagine how hard executives would have baulked if it had been presented to them back in the ABC days.
New Twin Peaks can be a punishing watch, not least because Lynch’s direction straddles the line between tease and punishment. One of the most controversial decisions has been to turn Cooper into an infant. Switched with a doppelganger named Dougie Jones, Cooper is relearning how to be a human at a gruellingly reduced rate. All anyone wants is to see the dynamic Cooper of old return, but last week we spent an inordinately long time watching him draw ladders on insurance forms. It was brilliantly infuriating.
This withholding of pleasure is Twin Peaks’ new secret weapon, and it works. Another example is Michael Cera’s cameo as Wally Brando, which pushed so hard to be everything that everyone dislikes about Michael Cera that it somehow performed a slow-motion pirouette and ended up slightly astonishing.
The new series also benefits from an enhanced cast. The original cast members have a bit of age behind them now – they’re not all beautiful twentysomethings any more – and several have died since the new series was shot, which adds an unbearable tenderness to some of their scenes. The new additions are firecrackers, too. The MVP of the run so far has been Naomi Watts as Dougie’s abrasive wife, Janey-E Jones, whose angry rat-a-tat monologues have at times resembled a pitch-perfect Lynch impersonation. In fact, I want Cooper to remain as Dougie for as long as possible, just because it’ll give Watts more to do.
Perhaps I’m so infatuated with the new Twin Peaks precisely because I didn’t love the original. My wife – a staunch fan for many years – turned to me last night, during a two-and-a-half minute scene where a man did nothing but sweep a floor, and wondered if Twin Peaks would be able to solve all its mysteries by the end of the series. Those mysteries matter much less to me. I love Twin Peaks because it represents David Lynch at his most gleefully ornery. The man can do whatever he likes. I’m in deep.