Pop Culture #665

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Pop Culture #665

So what about that Twin Peaks, huh? For a show that we’ve repeatedly been told defies description, there sure have been a lot of words written down trying to explain the delayed-by-25-years third season. And while David Lynch’s return to television might have created something that’s definitely a firm break from the increasingly stale “prestige TV” that we’ve all grown used to, his work has been largely used to further a very traditional debate: is cinema better than television?

On the pro-television side are the articles going on about how Twin Peaks is a lot of flash that signifies not a whole lot (an argument that’s been deployed against Lynch since the mid-80s) and therefore ranks somewhere lower on the TV totem pole than shows like, say, Fargo or Better Call Saul – series that have taken at least some of the style and innovation of Lynch’s work on Twin Peaks and married it to more realistic characters to create something that better reflects the world we live in. For these critics we don’t need Twin Peaks coming back from the dead because we’ve moved beyond it: it was a ground-breaking experiment in television but we’ve since figured out what worked and discarded what didn’t.

On the cinema side are those who see Lynch as a creative genius, somebody who’s work demands to be viewed as a whole rather than a collection of tricks – the creepy horror works because of the off-kilter nature of his characters, which only works in his hyper-real yet slightly off vision of America, and so on.

Other television shows may have picked up on Lynch’s approach and developed it in certain ways, but Lynch is still the guy who makes it all work. And with Twin Peaks, he’s not resting on his laurels: those expecting a mellow nostalgia-fest (to be fair, there weren’t many of them in the first place) have instead found Lynch happy turn his prime-time soap into something a lot closer to the bizarre nightmare of his last film Inland Empire. And yet he’s still kept the quirky fun of the original – he’s just ramped it up to a point where it’s obvious that what was folksy charm the first time around is now more like a twitchy joke that he could be playing for laughs or could instead just twist it on its head. He’s a cinematic creator in a way that even the best television showrunners, who are way more focused on plot and character, aren’t even trying to be.

If you think television is where it’s currently at culturally, then Twin Peaks is little more than a wacky stunt; if you think cinema still has the edge then Twin Peaks is showing us just how staid and dull the small screen has become. There’s a little truth to both; the irony is that Twin Peaks has only been revived because television is increasingly playing it safe (it’s a cult hit from the 90s – what could be more sure-fire in a world where even Full House has been revived?). The only show that could really shake up the safe world of prestige television is a show that we’re only getting because it was a sure-fire hit: whether it’s a massive hit or a high profile fizzle, it’s safe to say we’re not going to be seeing anything like it for a long, long time.

Written by Anthony Morris