Friday, December 2, 2011

Murder In The Weirdest Place In America: Twin Peaks - Season 1

The Good: Great Quirky Characters, Great Acting, Wickedly Twisted Plots
The Bad: Individual Episodes Stand Out Less Than The Entire Collection, No Pilot Episode!
The Basics: When a local girl is murdered, FBI Agent Dale Cooper journeys to Twin Peaks to try to find out why. Instead he finds himself in a weird place.

I was not old enough to see Twin Peaks when it was first on the air. Instead, I learned of it a few years back and everyone I knew said if I saw it, I was likely to enjoy it. It's nice to know people in my life know me so well; Twin Peaks was a show that when I risked it on DVD, I discovered I enjoyed it quite a bit. It was one of the most twisted, clever pieces of television I had seen that was not science fiction.

When teenager Laura Palmer is murdered, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives in Twin Peaks to find her killer. With the aid of sheriff Harry S. Truman, Cooper begins to investigate the suspects. The list is long: from Laura's best friend Donna Hayward to her secret lover James Hurley to Leo Johnson, a wifebeating truck driver who seems to be the drug connection into Twin Peaks.

But the story does not stop there. Instead, it is only the beginning. What follows is a twisted series of plots involving various characters. As Cooper and Truman search for Laura's killer, Josie Packard finds her sawmill under siege by businesswoman Catherine Martell and her fling Benjamin Horne. Leland Palmer, Laura's father, has a full psychological collapse and her mother exhibits psychic powers in regard to the murder. Bobby, Laura's legitimate boyfriend, finds himself in open conflict with drug supplier Leo Johnson and in an affair with Norma, Leo's wife. To top it all off, Dr. Jacoby, Laura's psychiatrist may have been having an affair with Laura and as Donna and James investigate Laura's murder, they find themselves pushed closer to him.

What makes Twin Peaks so good is that it is a complex place and it takes a great deal of time to explore all of the different aspects of the town. So, more than being a simple murder mystery, everyone who is around the murder has something going on and it feels more organic than a series of red herrings in the investigation. So, at the very least, we have a complex crime surrounded by complex characters who all have their own ideas and machinations and the series takes its proper amount of time to develop all of those leads.

And Twin Peaks is clever, drawing out elaborate plots over a period of time. As a result, it's quite difficult to pick a single episode to discuss. Instead, the first season tells a portion of the story, like the first book in a volume. The problematic aspect of this in the DVD set is that it is missing the pilot episode. As a result, the set seems somewhat incomplete, as it begins with "Last Time On Twin Peaks . . . " and we, the viewers, feel cheated. This has to do with different production companies owning the rights to the pilot and the series and we may only hope in the future that episode is released for our enjoyment.

What makes Twin Peaks distinctive is that the characters are quirky. Cooper uses his own dreams to figure out who the killer is, in one instance gaining clues through a hilarious exercise that involves saying people's names and throwing rocks at a glass bottle. Josie Packard, who seems quite naive, is sleeping with Harry Truman and is playing all ends of the scheme to take her sawmill. Benjamin Horne's daughter is a flighty high school girl that gets in a ring of prostitution in an attempt to curry Cooper's favor and help him solve the case. Big Ed Hurley, one of the unofficial deputies in Twin Peaks, has a wife who is psychologically unstable and seeks to get a patent on completely silent drape runners. Crazy.

But those who fear a television series as weird as illustrated in The Simpsons, where Homer sees a man dancing with a horse and it's called Twin Peaks, this is nowhere near as strange as that. Instead, this is a pretty gross crime and who did it is a mystery surrounded by a load of people who have their own agendas. That is not to say the series is not weird; Cooper's dreams are filled with weird imagery and some of the clues are rather bizarre.

The acting in Twin Peaks is the result of some brilliant casting of some excellent actors and actresses. Kyle MacLachlan is great as Dale Cooper. While he has a very young face, he has a great presence that suggests impressive intellect and experience. MacLachlan does an excellent job at piecing together some rather long sections of lines and he makes us believe completely in his qualifications to be an FBI special agent. MacLachlan is clever and he has wonderful facial expressions that make his emotions obvious.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Michael Otkean is perfectly bewildered as Harry Truman. He is often the expression of the audience, amazed at the leaps Cooper makes and Otkean very professionally defines that for the viewer. Similarly, Richard Beymer is magnetic as Benjamin Horne, convincing us easily of his character's charisma. Indeed, Beymer has many difficult scenes - like stuffing an obscene amount of baguette into his mouth in the second episode - that he pulls off completely convincingly.

But what ought to be mentioned is that this cast also has a group of young adults in it and all of them are magnificent. The young men who play Bobby and James are both convincing in their angsty performances and desire to see Laura's murderer brought to justice. Lara Flynn Boyle, who plays Donna, shows glimpses of her future greatness in playing young love in a way that is not melodramatic.

All in all, Twin Peaks is the perfect name for this series as it is ultimately about this weird place more than anything else in the first season. Cleverly written in a way that makes us want to simply keep playing the discs, The Complete First Season is an excellent investment for anyone who likes drama with twisted characters and a decent murder mystery.

For a far better idea of exactly what this set includes, please check out my reviews of the episodes (though they may have some spoilers!) at:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7


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

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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