Without giving too much away about the shockingly abrupt ending to its second season way back in 2001, Twin Peaks has forever been considered one of the great unfinished works of TV. It was cancelled amid tumbling ratings blamed on all sorts of circumstances – including network meddling, inter-cast jealousy and the Gulf War – and ended on an absolutely gaping cliffhanger in an effort to try and emotionally blackmail network executives into commissioning a third season. The attempt failed, and for decades the fate of dozens of characters was left in limbo – almost, but not quite, a fitting end to one of the most surreal series ever to appear on a major US channel – before or since.
But this weekend, what was once totally unthinkable is happening again: Twin Peaks is returning at long last to bring sweet, belated closure to a generation of fans left high and dry for 26 years. And if you don’t know what they were left high and dry by, now is probably a good time for you to stop reading, in case you spoil any more of this strange and unique horror-cum-soap-opera that for a brief, surreal time in the early ‘90s somehow baffled an American network into letting goths direct primetime telly.
In fact, we’re getting a luxurious 18 episodes’ worth of answers, the first of which will be broadcast in the UK in the early hours of 22 May (Monday). It might have missed the deadline set towards the end of its increasingly weird second season by murdered teen Laura Palmer, who tells FBI Agent Dale Cooper that “I’ll see you again in 25 years”, but only by a year. Both of the show’s original creators, David Lynch and Mark Frost, are back on board, having written the whole third series between them, and with Lynch in the director’s chair for all of it. This bodes especially well, as most of the show’s best episodes were Lynch/Frost collaborations, while the majority of its biggest missteps were foisted upon them by network executives who didn’t quite understand what was going on.
Even now, in this golden age of TV, blessed by the likes of Game of Thrones, Westworld and Mr Robot, there’s surprisingly little on our screens that matches Twin Peaks’ sheer weirdness, or the auterist flourish of Lynch and Frost. There were dozens of strange, short-lived sub-plots throughout, alongside gnomic cameos and a whole range of weirdos doing their thing. Characters at times break into song and dance numbers and it works within the show’s internal logic, especially as every performance is bang on the money, and the soundtrack is, well, flawless. It was all anchored by the genial presence of Kyle McLaughlin’s Agent Cooper, whose cheerful love of people, cherry pie and coffee gave watchers an unflappably human rock to cling onto when the going got horrific.
No-one, possibly not even its most ardent fans, would try and pretend that Twin Peaks was a perfect show. As its flawed second season draws on, the compromises that were forced upon it by falling ratings and network interference cause serious pacing problems, while several of the later non-Lynch-directed episodes can drag. There are a lot of strange non-sequiturs and not every joke hits the mark. Some of the sexual politics are… dubious to the modern eye (though David Duchovny as a transgender federal agent wasn’t played for laughs at all, putting it decades ahead of its time). But despite all this, Twin Peaks was a singular, cultish pleasure, another casualty of the endless bad decisions of American network television.
But even though we know it’s coming back, and that Lynch and Frost will be there, we don’t know much else about it at all.
The full cast list was released last year, and scores of characters are returning. Several of the original cast were dead before the show’s return was announced, not least Frank Silva’s demonic Bob, while several others passed on the opportunity to return, often either because they felt they were too old or because they’d quit show business altogether. Most crucially we seem to be missing Lara Flynn Boyle and Michael Ontkean, two of the original lynchpins, but they and various others have been recast. Oddly, the entire mill sub-plot and most of its characters appear to have been left behind – meaning poor old Joan Chen is trapped in a drawer handle forever.
Some cast members have passed away since filming some or all of their scenes, including Miguel Ferrer and Warren Frost, who both died this year, and Catherine E Coulson, the Log Lady, who died partway through production. David Bowie, who played Agent Phillip Jeffries in the spin-off movie Fire Walk With Me, also died before he could shoot a cameo in the new venture, but after filming began.
From the trailer, which seems to be pretty much the sum of what we’ve been given before the first episode drops, there’s a lot going on but no real way of telling what it means:
Clearly, things are set 25 years on, because no TV show on earth has the cash to digitally de-age 100 or more cast members. Apart from that, however, we’re not being given more than a few shreds to go on – a deliberate decision according to Lynch, who has ascended to living legend status in the past 26 years and is clearly getting far more of a say in proceedings than he did in 1990.
"It comes from my own personal desire to not know anything before I see a film," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I want to experience it in a pure way and be taken into a world, letting it go where it takes you. It takes you where it wants to take you, and it's a beautiful, beautiful experience. It's very precious, and the more you know, it sort of takes away from that full experience."
Many members of the cast and crew have apparently been banned from discussing the show until its run is up in September, and Lynch won’t even reveal whether or not a fourth season is planned. He hasn’t said anything on who the new characters are, much less what they’ll be getting up to; in fact, all he has said is this: "You try to get the right person for the part, and that's it pure and simple. So much of filmmaking is common sense."
The first episode – a two-hour premiere – is out on 22 May, and will be broadcast simultaneously in the US and the UK. Therefore, if you want to it legally in the UK, you’ll have to tune into the super-premium Sky Atlantic at 2am. For those who fancy they can avoid spoilers for another 19 hours, it’ll go out again at 9pm on 23 May. Make sure you watch the first two series first – it’ll be worth your while.