"Twin Peaks" Returns This Month—Here's WW's Original 1990 Review of David Lynch's Iconic TV Pilot

"For one night, television was tested, tilted and transcended."

April 12, 1990

Still mourning the demise of St. Elsewhere? Tired of chasing Molly Dodd through the cable scheduling maze? Rejoice, lovers of the offbeat: David Lynch has come to television.

A two-hour movie Sunday introduced Twin Peaks, a startling fusion of soap opera, whodunit, tragedy and poetry. ABC has purchased seven episodes of the series, which begins with a brutal murder in a fictional Pacific Northwest logging town. If the premiere is any indication, viewers have a treat in store. Lynch, the quirk-commemorating director whose cinematic vision made The Elephant Man, a haunting tribute to non-conformity, has trespassed into the most mediocre of media—and, astonishingly, TV has dared to accommodate him.

In case an imaginative script, beautiful scenery and a murder mystery are not enough to avert viewer boredom, Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost give us a huge population of players. But the alarmed response of "Oh no, not another new character" is quickly dispelled by intrigue or eccentricity. A man wearing an Indian headdress thumps his skull against the side of a doll house. A woman carries around a log to which she ascribes human qualities. Amid Lynch's camera suddenly gives importance to strange details, such as the saddle shoes worn by the town vixen. The unexpected may not be consistently amusing or charming, but it is always watchable, and Lynch swerves off course just often enough to keep viewers cocking their heads.

Kyle MacLachlan, the Yakima-reared actor who appeared in Lynch's critically acclaimed Blue Velvet (as well as his megadud, Dune), had the premiere's most interesting role. As the government agent sent to investigate the crime, he veers from apparent clairvoyance to puzzling naïveté. Acute deja vu will afflict moviegoers who saw 1987's The Hidden, in which MacLachlan portrayed a weird FBI agent who drops into town to help the local cop collar the villain. That character's eccentric behavior was eventually explained by the fact that he was an extraterrestrial. Given Lynch's penchant for the improbable, who knows what Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper will turn out to be.

Peaks recalls the television work of another less than conventional movie-
maker, Alfred Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock. Lynch revels in catching his audience off-guard. Bizarre close-ups intrude here, a fascinating scene is abruptly truncated there. The soundtrack, punctuated by pulsing finger snapping, is sometimes disturbing, sometimes divine. Without warning, Lynch inserts a lyrically beautiful shot of a night-framed traffic signal changing from green to red. At times, he slows the pace to an exasperating crawl. Characters are introduced without preamble, thrust like snapshots into the tableau. Lynch's tradition tweaking can produce extraordinary moments: The line "When your sweetheart's husband is in jail for manslaughter, the word 'parole' has a nasty ring to it" is not delivered for a facile laugh; in fact, it's delivered with poignant sincerity.

Though Peaks is so far surprisingly short on graphic sex and violence, hallmarks of Lynch's big-screen contributions, it is also devoid of fidelity. Everyone in this town cheats. No one is to be trusted, and nothing is quite as it seems. Given that Lynch did not direct the next episode of the series, perhaps viewers should be prepared for a let-down; but even if further installments of Twin Peaks don't live up to the promise of the pilot, we can exult that for one night television was tested, tilted and transcended.