now watching: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

Or: The overly long and complicated story of how I came to watch, and ultimately love, Twin Peaks

April 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the airing of Twin Peaks. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve decided to introduce my lady to its wonderful world by working through the season 1 and 2 box sets. It’s such a joy having them all together on DVD, in such pristine quality. It wasn’t always this easy though. Below, I recount the overly long and complicated tale of how Twin Peaks came into my life.

Sometime around 1990, the first episode of Twin Peaks airs in my town. I can’t tell you exactly how long after the US airing it was, but I can tell you exactly where I am – upstairs at Chris Jarvis’s house, having a sleep over. Either it’s on really late or we’re in bed really early, because here’s me, laying on a mattress on the floor, trying to sleep while the strains of Julie Cruise and Angelo Badalameti’s ‘Falling’ waft into the room from downstairs.

Monday morning at school everyone is running off that famous line – “She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic” – in their best Jack Nance voices. Of course, no one knows who Jack Nance is, or can even really explain what Twin Peaks is about – “Who killed Laura Palmer, right?” – but it seems to have their imaginations capture. Or at least I thought it did. Weeks later and no one seems to care. We don’t talk about Twin Peaks much any more. I am 11 years old.

Some months later I’m talking to my good friend Daniel. His sister has been an avid watcher of the show, and last night the killer was revealed. Since I’m convinced I’ll never see it (our family didn’t have a VCR, and it’s on far too late for my parent’s liking) I ask him who killed Laura Palmer. He does his best to explain, considering I’ve never seen the show. I’m captivated, but saddened by the fact I’ll probably never see it for myself. I’m 12, maybe 13 years old.

Skip ahead to 1997. I’m in first year university, studying Film and Television. Talk turns (as it always should) to the work of David Lynch, and the inevitable reaction of shock and awe to my declaration – “I haven’t ever seen Twin Peaks”. My girlfriend at the time and I decide we must rectify this. She was a fan of the show when it aired, but can’t remember many of the fine details. We wander down to her local video store and pick up the first of four boxed double VHS sets. Depending on your age, you may remember seeing their cases on the video store shelf – not two VHS tapes think, like Stephen King’s The Stand, but wide. One of many promo shots of Laura Palmer spread across its wide, cumbersome case. I’m 17 years old.

We race home, pop in tape one, and it begins with a previously on Twin Peaks. This isn’t right. Check the tape – definitely tape 1. Check the box – it’s also labeled as the first.

Confusion! Panic! We race back to the video store and check with the clerk – fortunately he’s knowledgeable in these things. And here’s where things get confusing. If you were a fan at the time, you’ll remember the frustration that came from trying to watch Twin Peaks at home, properly.

You see, the show doesn’t start with the first tape of the first box. There’s a pilot, which is packaged as the Twin Peaks movie. Not Fire Walk With Me, but just the Twin Peaks movie. It is, for all intents and purposes, the first episode of the show, however the version available on VHS is not the one that aired on TV originally. Welcome to broadcast politics. This is how I understand what went down.

In order to get his pilot shot, ABC requested Lynch film an additional ending, so the pilot could be sold as a film to Europe (who love all things Lynch) if the show didn’t get picked up. That way, they’d at least have a way to recoup costs [1]. As it happened, the show was picked up, and a good chunk of the 20 minute long ‘alternate ending’ was used as part of the dream montage at the end of episode two.

The problem with this is that it features several rather large reveals, and introduces a major character not yet seen in the broadcast show. For the uninformed viewer (me, at the time), it’s all a bit confusing and rather spoilerific. We preserved though, devouring the first two box sets available at our local video store, before beginning the journey to hunt down the final two sets – which included more than one fruitless late night bus trip out to a Video Ezy or Blockbuster in the middle of nowhere.

Due to the politics of licensing, the actual broadcast version of the pilot hasn’t been available to rent or buy until its release on DVD. And even now, depending on which region of the world you’re in, you may or may not get the pilot included in your set [2]. So, if you were an avid Twin Peaks fan who wanted to watch the show the way it was originally intended before now, you had two options – a) wait for the show to be re-broadcast on TV [3], or b) find someone with a copy of the broadcast pilot and beg for a dub. I chose the later, and after some random emailing, a nice person from Auckland sent me a copy.

Eventually I found my own copy of the show (minus the pilot) on VHS from 78 Records for $100 – not a small amount of money for student me. I had it on lay-by for a good number of weeks, paying $10 here and there when I could. Finally paying it off, I returned home and basked in its amazingly mediocre VHSness. The picture was softer than I’d seen before and the last few tapes had pretty glaring audio issues all the way through, but at least it saved me the effort of running around video stores, trying to hunt for a complete set.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the show all the way through, or even just the first seven episodes that make up the first season. It’s something I try and do at least once a year. I could sit and was-lyrical about how Twin Peaks impacted how TV was made, and how I’d bet most of your favourite shows now probably wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for Twin Peaks, but there’s no point. Hundreds of others are doing the same thing right now using far better words. I’ve not even mentioned a word of why I love the show – why its story and characters has me coming back time after time. How that amazing Badalamenti score has the ability to transport you to the town of Twin Peaks whenever played through television speakers.

I’m not going to talk about those things, as I don’t need to. Again, better people with better words.

Instead, I have a favour to ask of you, dear reader, since you’ve come this far already. I ask you, if you considering perhaps revisiting Twin Peaks to celebrate its 20th Anniversary, or maybe all this talk of the show has encouraged you to go out and pick up the DVDs to see what all the fuss is about – I ask you, as you pop in disc one and press play on the broadcast version of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, consider how far we’ve come. Consider the 17 year old me, stumbling down Albany highway in the dark, hunting desperately for the fourth VHS set, so I could finally see how it all ends.

My name is Mark. I love Twin Peaks. I’m 30 years old.

[1] This wasn’t to be the last time a Lynch TV pilot was re-jigged for a theatrical release. Many years later fans became excited at the news of him working on a new TV show based in LA. The pilot was shot, but for whatever reason though, the show was never picked up. Fortunately, Lynch was able to rework the ending and secured a theatrical release.

Ever wondered why Mulholland Drive takes such a dramatic shift towards its conclusion?

[2] I opted to buy the Season 1 set from the UK, which on release included the original broadcast pilot. Since its release, there’s now a new Gold Edition set which includes both series, as well as the broadcast and European pilot. Completists rejoice!

[3] Which it was, eventually, by Channel 10. Around midnight. Sometime towards the end of the 90s.


Author: Mark Ampersand

Budding writer, connoisseur of fine popular culture and Batman fan.

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