The New 'Twin Peaks' Is Funny as Hell

In the third and fourth episode, 'Twin Peaks: The Return' finds its strange sense of humor.
May 29, 2017, 4:00am

"This is the only good use of Michael Cera, forever," a friend wrote about episode 4 of Twin Peaks. I hadn't watched it yet, but I knew immediately that he had to be playing Andy and Lucy's son, Wally. It was the funniest, most perfect bit of casting I could imagine: all of Lucy's cherubic blond dippiness, all of Andy's dim sentimentality. Of course, I had no idea how weird it was going to get. In its second two episodes, Twin Peaks: The Return finds its worldview—including its particular brand of humor—and it's definitely not like anything you've seen before.


The pair of episodes starts with a scene so over-the-top Lynchian it almost seems like he's just testing whether he can get away with it. (Note to David: yes.) It's got all the hits: pretty girls, faintly grotesque girls, excruciatingly slow pacing, mysterious places outside of space, glitchiness, menace, doubles—and, finally, two people switching lives, to the extreme confusion of both. But it's not the switch we anticipate. Cooper's doppelganger said last episode that he was going to be pulled back into the Black Lodge, and that almost happens, but at the last minute an identical guy we've never met before—a Cooper in a mustard-colored jacket and a terrible haircut and answering to the name of Dougie—gets snatched away instead, and Real Coop is ejected out of a light socket in his place.

This is, so far, the most interesting subplot. "Someone manufactured you for a purpose," Mike says to Dougie, before the latter dissolves into a puff of smoke, a large golden pearl, and the jade ring from Fire Walk With Me. It seems that Dougie is a construct, presumably made by Coop's doppelganger to act as a decoy when he gets called back to the Lodge. It works: the doppelganger remains in the world, albeit covered in (apparently toxic) creamed corn vomit inside a flipped-over car, and a dazed and childlike Cooper is forced to pick up Dougie's old life.

It's also the subplot that provides the most humor, which I think will define this show's sensibility. The scenes set in the town of Twin Peaks itself have occasionally reached hard for a joke, but I feel like the actors' hearts aren't in it—I may be projecting, but it seems like they miss the old dialogue, the old pacing, and the old days. Michael Cera is a notable exception, maybe because Cera has no ties to the past here and can really extend himself. His Wally is a hybrid of Brando, Kerouac, and George Michael Bluth, and it's hysterical. But the funniest parts, funny in a way that defines the show, involve the Cooper-Dougie switch.


Why does there need to be any humor at all, though? Plenty of shows (and plenty of David Lynch movies) have none; for a while, I thought this might be one of them. But to make it through eighteen hours of David Lynch, you need some laughs to leaven it. Mercifully, these episodes make clear that there is definitely a kind of desperate, surreal hilarity at work. Take Cooper hooting "Helloooooo" as slot machine after slot machine disgorges its jackpot, because he thinks that's part of the process. Or Dougie musing "That's weird" as his arm starts to shrink into nothingness. Or the objects found in Doppelcooper's car: "cocaine, machine gun, dog leg." (We'll pass lightly over Albert's response—"what, no cheese and crackers?"—which is NOT an Albert-quality joke.) Or Cooper forgetting, then remembering, how to pee.

Or take the bit in Dougie's kitchen, where Dougie's kid Sonny Jim patiently teaches an ill-dressed Cooper how to eat pancakes. (Incidentally, based on the boy's name alone, I suspect this entire family was "manufactured for a purpose." Literally nobody's kid is named Sonny Jim, and the wife is credited as "Janey-E." Nope.) I said I would try to avoid too much comparison of old Peaks with new, and I will, but listen: I think this scene, in conversation with a similar scene in the original, is going to be the key to understanding the humor of nu-Peaks, and thus its sensibility.

In both, Cooper takes a sip of coffee, then spits it out. In 2017 he's sitting in a Vegas subdivision, wearing Dougie's hideous green jacket and with a tie draped over his head, whirring out "Hi!" as coffee continues to spill from his rictus mouth over the rhythm lines of "Take Five." In 1990, he's standing in front of a blackboard with a map of Tibet on the back in the woods of Twin Peaks; after spitting out his mouthful, he grins widely at the concerned onlookers and exclaims "Damn good coffee! And hot!" Meditate on those two scenes and they'll tell you everything you need to know.

I don't think this series is going to be a laugh riot. There's already been too much puking, too many gruesome dead bodies, and too many endless scenes in mysterious glitchy galactic living rooms for that. But all of those are the reason we need some chuckles once in a while. This set of episodes lets us know where we might find them, and what they'll look like: anarchic, sad, dreamlike and a little nightmarish, laughing and sometimes howling into the void.

Notes for Peaks freaks of old:

  • It's hard for me to imagine how the scenes in Twin Peaks itself feel for people who didn't watch the original show, but for me the pacing is painful, especially Lucy's. I can feel her struggling against the direction: her character talks fast, and she's being made to talk slow. I had to watch her rundown of the plot twists on "Invitation to Love" to reset my brain. ("Poor Chet.")
  • My boyfriend: "Never thought I'd say this, but I think Bobby is the best actor in the room." Also, Dana Ashbrook is looking FINE.
  • "We're not anywhere near Mount Rushmore!" "I brought a picture for you." This is the first time I've really felt like this was our Gordon and Albert.
  • If Bowie hadn't died do you think Jeffries would come back? Then again, Miguel Ferrer died and he's still in this. Catherine Coulson died in 2015 and she's in it too!
  • I still think Wally is named after Waldo and nobody is going to change my mind. WAL-ly Bran-DO? Come on.

Follow Jess Zimmerman on Twitter.