What It’s About
The grisly murder of a homecoming queen jump-starts one of network TV’s most bizarre and groundbreaking experiments, as idiosyncratic federal agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) descends on Twin Peaks — a small Northwest town full of oddities — to try to figure out who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). As Cooper, the sheriff’s department, and some local teens delve deeper into the crime, the rotting darkness of the seemingly idyllic hamlet comes to the fore. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, the short-lived ABC series (it ran from 1990 to ’91) was a genre bender that was by turns a supernatural thriller, a melodrama, a quirky comedy, and a procedural.
How To Watch
First, according to Lynch, you’ve got to binge in order. Start with the pilot, and watch the prequel movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, only after you’ve seen the whole series. Second, Lynch insists that the only way to experience Twin Peaks is to re-create a movie-theater setting at home with a big screen, stellar sound, and absolutely no distractions (put that phone away!). ”Cinema is like a door to a new world. You’ve got to give yourself a chance to really go into that world, and then it ceases to be a surface experience,” he tells EW. ”People think they’ve seen the film on a small screen, but they haven’t, and that’s the truth.”
Agent Dale Cooper, Kyle MacLachlan
An outsider, this dreamy, intuitive Boy Scout of an agent loves cherry pie and a damn good cup of coffee.
Leland Palmer, Ray Wise
A grieving father who’s just as likely to break out into tears as he is into a jaunty song-and-dance number.
Laura Palmer, Sheryl Lee
The dead homecoming queen had an edge and a deep well of sinister secrets that nearly destroy the town.
Killer BOB, Frank Silva
A demon who may or may not actually exist but whose menacing image haunts many in the town.
Sheriff Harry S. Truman, Michael Ontkean
The sensible rock to Cooper’s oddball, Truman knows a lot about his town…but not everything.
Audrey Horne, Sherilyn Fenn
This privileged teen is a femme fatale in saddle shoes. She’s harboring a massive crush on Cooper.
Donna Hayward, Lara Flynn Boyle
Laura’s BFF begins her own investigation with the help of James (James Marshall), a biker with a heart of gold.
Man From Another Place, Michael J. Anderson
A frequent guest in Cooper’s dreams, he dances and gives cryptic clues.
Season 1: Agent Dale Cooper investigates the tangled web of secrets surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder
Must-Watch Episode: The Pilot — Lynch thinks of the two-hour stand-alone as a movie and possibly a season all its own. ”It sets the tone,” he explains.
Skippable Episode: Episode 3 — With only seven episodes, each one is important, but ep 3 might be the one to breeze by. Laura is buried and her doppelgänger cousin comes to town.
Season 2: The murder is solved, and the series reboots with a new foe (Cooper’s deranged former partner Windom Earle).
Must-Watch Episode: The Finale — Lynch directs after a long hiatus, returning the show to its signature form by threatening Cooper’s unflappable goodness.
Skippable Episode: Episodes 10 through 13 — Lynch and Frost left after the murder was solved, and this post-revelation reset is meandering and downright dull.
Prequel Movie: Fire Walk With Me
Lynch explores the little-discussed killing of Teresa Banks — which preceded and resembled Laura Palmer’s murder and resulted in the disappearance of a federal agent — and the seven days before Palmer’s death in this surrealist psychological horror film that’s much more graphic and experimental than the show was ever allowed to be.
Twin Peaks and EW
Critic Ken Tucker gave the premiere an A+
”Twin Peaks makes you aware of just how slapped together most TV entertainment is; its calm, deliberate eccentricity is a virtue in itself,” he wrote.
David Duchovny: The future X-Files star had a brief season 2 arc as transvestite DEA agent Denise (a.k.a. Dennis).
Molly Shannon: The comedian appeared as a Happy Helping Hand caseworker in a particularly random season 2 side plot.
Billy Zane: Before Titanic, Zane played John Justice Wheeler, a suave entrepreneur who starts a relationship with Audrey Horne.
Heather Graham: A season 2 addition, Graham played Norma Jennings’ (Peggy Lipton) sister, who gets involved with Cooper.
When You’re Done
The thing to keep in mind with any David Lynch project is that there really are no answers. The mystery, he says, is ”the beautiful thing.” Even the murder of Laura Palmer was supposed to go unsolved (but network execs insisted on a resolution). If you’re hungering for more, there are always the books The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes (penned by Frost’s brother Scott) and The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (written by Lynch’s daughter Jennifer). And, of course, Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery features hours of extras, Easter eggs, and interviews — including one with Lynch and the Palmer family (in and out of character). Just remember to embrace the ambiguity. As Lynch says, ”There’s no end to the mystery.”