Illustration by Nick Gazin
Yesterday’s announcement of a new nine-episode season of Twin Peaks was met with almost universal enthusiasm. Pent-up demand will do that. Imagine being cooped up in a prison cell for 25 years with nothing but your thoughts and reruns of seaQuest DSV to tide you over. I know, that is the ultimate nightmare scenario. Now that we are free of our shackles and able to roam the moist, terrifying environs of the Pacific Northwest yet again, I can't help but wonder if this is really all that there is. Is there nothing more? Is my generation forever cursed to be given everything they want until the end of time?
Call it the Power Rangers Rule: If a certain intellectual property reaches an undefined level of global awareness, you can just assume there will be more and more iterations of that property for as long as fiction exists. Inexplicably, there are two feature film versions of Street Fighter that were both terrible, and three financially unsuccessful movies starring Punisher, a superhero whose special power is guns. A Police Academy remake is in the works, which would be the eighth entry in the film series. There's also a Police Academy animated series (with accompanying action figure line) and a live-action Police Academy show that you can probably find on YouTube if you try hard enough. For the record, I have never met someone who feels strongly about their love for Police Academy, though I have never met Steve Guttenberg. (Please email me, Steve. We have many things to discuss. Many things.)
Remakes, revivals, and infinite sequels are now inescapable. They are the foundation upon which our entertainment industrial complex is founded. This is a given, and fighting it is a complete waste of time—especially in the case of an artistic triumph like Twin Peaks. If you are one of those grumpy bastards who is mad that a classic 25-year-old TV show is being brought back by its original creators sight unseen, you're missing the point. We have it all, and we should be grateful. The "white whale" of TV revivals is happening. David Lynch himself said it would never happen, and that he had given up on the medium of television. And yet, it happened. It took awhile, but it happened. If enough consumers love something, it will come back. How does an obsessive fan live in a world where the impossible is possible? Can anything actually stay underground?
In 1969, NBC aired the final episode of a weird sci-fi show about a space-age JFK banging aliens and convincing primatives to stop believing in God. It was called Star Trek, and nearly 50 years later, the show has spawned four live-action TV spinoffs, an animated series, 12 (soon to be 13) feature films, and countless books and comics. I own most of them in one form or another, because I'm the sort of spazoid that journalists and cultural critics used to mock for their relentless passion.
It's almost trite to point out yet again that the dweebs won, and the world economy now bows at our feet in efforts to pry cash from our chubby, potentially webbed fingers. Star Trek fans had to wait ten years for their favorite show to be revived as a movie. From there, the series basically never went away and today, Trek fandom is no longer defined by a bunch of fat dudes with latex on their faces sweating in a hotel ballroom while the guy who played Kodos the Executioner talks about his costume. The last two Trek films made the whole thing so mainstream that I can actually wear a Star Trek T-shirt outside the house on the 360 days that Comic-Con isn't happening. Star Trek's decades-long journey to mainstream acceptance could be a guidepost for what's to come with the Twin Peaks cult. But much like the show itself, the history of Twin Peaks mania is far more elaborate, mysterious, and disheartening.
Twin Peaks was a massive hit when it premiered on ABC, tanked in the ratings a year later after what many considered to be a subpar second season, got a feature film adaptation that most of the moviegoing public absolutely hated, and then completely disappeared from the zeitgeist. The VHS box set went out of print, the show stopped being rerun on cable, a season one DVD set finally came out in 2001 and then the company issuing it went out of business. In the years before streaming services like Netflix and loquacious nerd communities on social media, Twin Peaks was less a TV series than a barely remembered dream.
A core group of fans kept the flame of a very peculiar, often times transgressive television series alive. Wrapped in Plastic, a Twin Peaks fan magazine, found a way to generate enough new material to publish all the way through to 2005. The Twin Peaks Festival in Snoqualmie, Washington—the location for the original pilot shoot—is the largest annual gathering of Twin Peaks fans in the world. Rob Lindley, an organizer for the Festival who has been working on it for a decade, has been at the forefront of making Twin Peaks the viable phenomenon it is today. He's already seen more and more young people joining the ranks of Twin Peaks fanatics.
"Two years ago, we had a young lady—her birthday was at the fest—so she had 200 people led by Jennifer Lynch [daughter of David and author of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer] singing happy birthday to her. That’s pretty cool," he told me. "The point is, we’ve got a lot of new fans and it’s their opportunity to enjoy it. It’s like with the original Star Trek fans and then The Next Generation opened up the whole genre. This is an opportunity for a whole new crop of fans to discover David Lynch."
Somehow, time actually made Twin Peaks more popular. TV audiences caught up to the show's surreal sensibilities, 20-somethings latched onto its casual hipness and nostalgia factor, and the scarcity of the DVDs, the Fire Walk with Me movie deleted scenes, the books, trading cards, etc. only added to the mystique of the series. The fact that it ended on a maddening cliffhanger didn't hurt either.
It's not uncommon to stumble upon writers who self-flagellate in order to make the final episode and Fire Walk with Me seem like a satisfying conclusion to the "franchise" (yes, calling Twin Peaks a franchise feels weird). In an AV Club review from 2008, Keith Phipps decided that "glaring proof to the contrary aside, I'm not sure there's anywhere to take the story from here." He continued his rhetorical striptease by saying, "In the final episode, Lynch and Frost take their characters into the Peaks equivalent of the 2001 monolith. We've heard about the Black Lodge for some time, now we plunge inside it. It's not full of stars but much darker stuff."
The inevitable triumph of darkness gets a lot of play in Twin Peaks fandom because the bad guys (TV executives) won. The show was canceled. It had to end this way, much like Deadwood fans' belief that the abrupt conclusion to that show was sufficient, despite it clearly not being the case. Now, that coping mechanism is unnecessary. Twin Peaks will return to wrap up the many questions left dangling since 1992, plus create a bunch more that will surely necessitate further adventures. Once you plug in the cash machine, there is no reason to unplug it as long as it keeps cranking out $100 bills.
As Twin Peaks returns, another reconstituted former broadcast soap is being sent back to the old folks' home. TNT just canceled the revival of Dallas, which was one of the most obsessed-over programs in America in the 1980s, after three seasons. Only "Who Shot JR?" could rival "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" as TV's signature question—though "Why is Two and a Half Men still airing new episodes?" is a close third. The new Dallas picked up where the old show left off, moving the narrative forward based on the amount of actual time that had passed since the final episode, which is the same tack Twin Peaks is taking. And like Dallas, I wouldn't be surprised if a whole new cast of quirky character actors and smolderingly attractive "teens" is recruited to mix it up with the surviving original actors. Classic Dallas aired for 13 years before it was put to rest. The revival lasted ten years less than that, but I doubt anyone is going to start a petition to save it.
Nothing truly dies. Breaking Bad had one of the most universally acclaimed finales in television history. It's getting a spinoff, and bringing Walter White back is not out of the question. The beauty of the soap opera form that Twin Peaks cleverly subverted is that it can go on forever, but classic soaps also replace their casts every few years before they get too old or start asking for too much money... or the audience loses interest. If done right, this show could go on forever, or it could irrevocably damage our perception of the series. I asked Lindley if the new season could taint the classic show by either commodifying it or being less than stellar.
"I’m going in it with an open mind because it’s David Lynch," he said. "It’s David writing these, directing these. So just the fact that he’s doing it right there, it’s like, 'OK, I’m in.' That’s all I had to know."
This revival signals that TV audiences and studios are ready for anything, that no matter how much goodwill is wasted by a show, it can still come back if enough people truly care about it. To the many fans who posted on message boards, went to the festival, shared their tapes and DVDs with friends, and preached the gospel, this is your moment to celebrate. Once the shows air, it will be real and no longer the apparition you've been chasing in the forest. Reality is always messier than fantasy, and I hope that this very special show can stick the landing in 2016.
Our pop culture is one where a loud enough voice can be heard. What separates Twin Peaks from Police Academy or any other revival is the sheer weight of enthusiasm. That people kept asking questions for 25 years is a testament to the power of the filmmakers, actors, and artisans who built this beloved world. Lindley summed up the fan experience: "We wanted that story to continue. We wanted to know what was gonna happen in season three, had there been one. That’s what we asked ourselves for many years: What did happen?"
The impossible is possible, but use that power wisely, friends. Twin Peaks is one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and its revival is sure to be something we'll never forget, but if you aren't prepared for season four of seaQuest DSV, then I suggest you start girding yourself. I just hope they bring back the talking dolphin.
Follow Dave Schilling on Twitter.