Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Strangely Mixed Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition!

The Good: Excellent characters, Generally good to great acting, Memorably surreal, Original, Suspenseful, DVD bonuses
The Bad: Some unpleasant (and ridiculous) character twists, Melodramatic acting, Does not include all prior DVD bonuses!
The Basics: With the "Definitive Gold Box Edition," the surreal drama series Twin Peaks finally has a worthy DVD home!

For years, since the first season of Twin Peaks was released on DVD, I had been excitedly waiting to see how the series would end (and, actually, how it began, too!) and when late last year it was announced that season two would be released on DVD, I was very excited. I was even more thrilled when, well in advance of season two hitting stores, it was announced that there would be a definitive series set collecting all thirty episodes (including the pilot) into one series boxed set. This is it, the Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition!

The Twin Peaks - Definitive Gold Box Edition is a ten disc DVD set featuring all of the television episodes of the series Twin Peaks, a surreal murder-mystery serialized drama that stands alone as one of the weirdest, most imaginative television series to ever hit television. With its massive cast (18 of the main cast and recurring guest stars appear in at least twenty-four of the thirty episodes!), intriguing and quirky characters and engaging and strange storylines, Twin Peaks became a phenomenon of its own with nothing quite like it before or since. Indeed, since Twin Peaks, the only series that leaps to mind that began as something so dramatically different from everything else that actually endured would be The X-Files (reviewed here!) and that show might have been pushing the envelope as far as its content and style, but it had nothing on the outlandish, dreamlike mystery that was Twin Peaks.

When local teenage troubled girl Laura Palmer is murdered in the quiet lumber town of Twin Peaks, Washington the FBI sends Special Agent Dale Cooper in to investigate. Cooper is a quirky agent who constantly dictates messages to his assistant about the most mundane details of his day. He arrives in Twin Peaks, is paired up with Sheriff Harry S. Truman, and begins an investigation. What he uncovers is a town teeming with secrets from wealthy businesspeople scheming to take over the old lumber mill and make the town into a giant resort, a casino just over the Canadian border that is also a bordello featuring teens from Twin Peaks High, and a mysterious and ancient evil living in the woods. Through a series of dreams, Cooper follows clues that lead him round and round the town to intersect with the lives of drug dealers, adulterers, crazy psychiatrists and lovelorn deputies in his quest to discover who killed Laura Palmer.

But Cooper is not the only one conducting an investigation; Laura's best friend, secret boyfriend, and her dead-ringer cousin begin pursuing leads on their own, as does heiress Audrey Horne, who has a serious crush on Cooper. These investigations lead to hostage situations, burning buildings, shut-in botanists and disturbing personal ads. As the series progresses and the Palmer investigation is resolved, Cooper finds himself hunted by someone far worse . . .

For all my love of Twin Peaks, it is hard not to admit that this is a deeply erratic series. The pilot episode, available for the first time on DVD for Americans in this boxed set with the option to play as the original pilot or the extended international release pilot (which basically wraps up the series in one episode . . . sort of), is compelling and it's easy to see why the show was picked up. The eight episodes of the first season (there is no "Previously on Twin Peaks" bit to open the episodes here) get better and better into the rousing first season finale which is mind-blowingly grand (the episodes do not have titles, save ones given to them by a German company for the laserdisc release). And the second season begins as if our characters had never left in the strange dreamworld of David Lynch's imagination with episodes that try to tie up some of the frayed ends left at the end of the first season and pursue the Laura Palmer murder investigation to its conclusion. But then the series goes into a freefall. As the killer of Laura Palmer gets closer and closer to being exposed, the supplemental plotlines become more and more ridiculous (superhuman amnesiac Nadine makes me cringe just to think of her!), though it does pull up for the final episode of the series. The highs are highs, the lows are low and because there are so few episodes, the transformations between the extremes happens pretty fast!

Before going into my usual exploration of the characters, it is worth noting that the Definitive Gold Box Edition of Twin Peaks does NOT include the cinematic outing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (original press releases for the set indicated it might), nor does it come with any sort of handy booklet describing what is on the discs. Instead, each disc is labeled with the episode numbers. It's inconvenient enough to have a series that does not have episode titles, but to not have any guide to find what one enjoyed watching is fairly infuriating. In exchange for the inconvenience of not having any guide to the DVDs, the buyer is given thirteen collectible postcards from a set of 61 (plus bonus cards!). And an advertisement for David Lynch's coffee! I'm not sure which is worse, not having an episode guide, not getting a complete set of collectible post cards (I can't afford to buy multiple DVD boxed sets to try to collect them all!) or paying to have David Lynch try to sell me on his own brand of coffee. [expletive deleted.]

So, with its convoluted and roller coaster plots, though the main one for the bulk of the series is focused on finding the killer of Laura Palmer, the consistent element is the cast of quirky characters who populate Twin Peaks. While the cast is massive, here are some details on some of the more important characters to give you an idea of just how weird this soap operatic series is:

Special Agent Dale Cooper, FBI - A ridiculously intelligent and hedonistic (at least in the area of coffee and pie) man, he is guided in his investigations by surreal dreams that inform him of the path to truth. As he investigates the Laura Palmer murder, he becomes close friends with Harry Truman and comes to believe that Twin Peaks is where he would prefer to reside,

Sheriff Harry S. Truman - A good-natured police officer, he willingly gives up jurisdiction in the Palmer case to Cooper and he learns to trust him implicitly when he sees that the clues Cooper is given in dreams exist in reality. He is involved with the owner of the mill, Josie Packard (though no one knows),

Benjamin Horne - The wealthy developer who owns the Great Northern Inn where Cooper is staying, he is working to develop a resort called Ghostwood, a project that requires him to gain control of the land the mill is on. He schemes with both Catherine (with whom he is having an affair) and Josie, playing both against each other for his own gain. He also owns One-Eyed Jacks,

Audrey Horne - Benjamin's daughter who is in high school and lacks direction. Eager to impress Cooper, whom she has a crush on, she begins her own investigation into Laura's death, an investigation that takes her into the underbelly of One-Eyed Jacks,

Donna Hayward - A high school senior and unlikely best friend of Laura Palmer. She is a good girl and falls in love with James following Laura's murder. She begins an investigation of her own to try to find who killed Laura,

Hawk - An Indian tracker and police officer, one of Truman's most reliable deputies, he often hunts down anyone who is a suspect,

Deputy Andy - The clumsy, nervous police officer who was having a relationship with Lucy until he was less than enthusiastic upon learning she was pregnant,

Shelly Johnson - Waitress at the Double R, she's married to Leo and having an affair with Bobby, conditions that put her in the line of fire for those who were involved in Laura's murder,

Bobby - A delinquent high school student, he's happy to be getting some from Shelly but becomes less secure when they try to make things work like adults. He used to sell drugs to students at Twin Peaks high,

Norma - Owner of the Double R Diner, she's basically incidental in the Palmer investigation and her jailbird husband is deeply involved in the mill/Ghostwood machinations,

Lucy - The office manager at the police station, she is kind but flighty, often giving directions that include the most esoteric of details for simple operations. She was involved with Andy,

Catherine - Scheming with Ben Horne to swindle the lumber mill - which she manages - from Josie in order to cash in on the Ghostwood resort project,

James Hurley - High school senior, nice guy and Laura Palmer's secret boyfriend, he's a motorcycle driving lover who hooks up with Donna before things go terribly wrong for him,

Leland Palmer - The distressed father of Laura Palmer, following her death, he takes to singing and dancing about the Great Northern. He is also Benjamin Horne's lawyer,

Madeleine - Laura's cousin who looks almost identical to her, she helps Donna and James with their schemes to fins Laura's killer,

and Leo Johnson - Shelly's husband and the most likely suspect in the Palmer murder, he has a bloody shirt from the night Laura was killed. A truck driver, he is often not around and he suspects someone has been sleeping with Shelly. He is abusive, hot-tempered and the drug connection to Twin Peaks. He is willing to commit almost any crime for the right price.

All of these characters might sound somewhat straightforward, especially for something of a soap opera, but one has to consider that the characters have weird mannerisms or undergo strange transformations, like Madeleine impersonating Laura in order to lure Laura's psychologist away from his office or Cooper dreaming of a red room where a dwarf speaks to him in weird tones and dances for no particular reason. It's the surreal brilliance that separates Twin Peaks from anything else.

And the cast is pretty amazing. No show I can think of so effectively blended parallel storylines featuring a young and middle-aged cast the way Twin Peaks did. So the series had a young Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Dana Ashbrook, and James Marshall working alongside seasoned acting greats like Piper Laurie, Richard Beymer, and Ray Wise.

Two performers make the series, though, and they are Michael Ontkean and Kyle McLaughlin. Ontkean plays Sheriff Harry S. Truman and he is perfectly cast to play a good-natured officer of the law who finds himself involved in something much bigger and weirder than he has ever seen before. Ontkean plays the straightman to the occasionally absurd McLaughlin and he does it with a consistently eager quality that makes him very watchable.

But it is Kyle McLaughlin who is charged with selling the reality of the series. McLaughlin must deliver some of the oddest dialogue - like an early monologue on the crispness of bacon and other breakfast ordering bits that take a mouthful - and make it seem believable that an agent of the FBI would be saying it. And he does it. Every time he reveals a new oddity or takes a moment to simply sip coffee, McLaughlin sells it as a real trait of his character and he makes us believe.

On DVD, the show looks good and the tenth disc is packed with bonus features. Goodies include an extensive four-part featurette that goes dramatically in depth into the making of all aspects of the series and has great participation from David Lynch and key members of the cast and crew. There are other featurettes, deleted scenes, an interview with Lynch, videos, and a Saturday Night Live collection featuring Kyle McLaughlin! As well, before each episode there are surreal introductions of each episode by the Log Lady. They are often vague, often grainy and the sound quality on them is absolutely terrible (they were not remastered with the rest of the set), but it's something!

Unfortunately, this set does not include any of the first season commentary tracks or the interviews that were exclusive to the second season boxed set! It's hardly "Definitive" when features that were in previous releases are not in this one!

But, it's not enough to not suggest that anyone who likes great drama, mysteries, and even science fiction will enjoy the strange and wonderful world of Twin Peaks. And despite its faults as it plummets following the resolution to the Laura Palmer case, there's enough in this set to recommend it over any other DVD release (hell, the pilot episode alone secures that!) of Twin Peaks and to recommend it over most other DVD boxed sets you could find!

For more information on Twin Peaks, please check out my reviews of the individual seasons, available at:
Season 1
Season 2

For other television series' that made their debut on ABC, please check out my reviews of:
V - Season 1
Boston Legal
Once & Again - Season 2
Once & Again - Season 1
Sports Night


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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