One of the most original and unusual television shows to ever air on a major network, Twin Peaks didn't stick around too long - twenty-nine episodes over two seasons to be exact - but its impact was huge and its influence still felt. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, they deceptively made the series look like a standard murder mystery, albeit one peppered with a cast of rather quirky characters. Once the premise was firmly established and the players setup, however, Lynch and company took us into increasingly more unusual and considerably darker territory then we'd seen on television before. Not since The Prisoner had a major television series flirted with surrealism as heavily as Twin Peaks.
The series begins in the small northwestern mill town of Twin Peaks where a man named Peter Martell (Jack Nance of Eraserhead) finds the body of a young woman named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) washed up on the shore near the sawmill where he works. The local sheriff, Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), is called in to investigate the scene and the townsfolk are soon shocked to find out that the late prom queen was murdered.
From there, the F.B.I. becomes involved in the case. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan of Blue Velvet) arrives in the small town and is immediately won over by its charm, taking note of the spruce trees and enjoying the local coffee and the odd slice of cherry pie. Constantly making audio recordings to send back to his office, Cooper gets down to business and soon ties Laura's murder into a couple of other killings that have taken place over the years. He and Harry work together to try and solve the case and find out who her true killer is, though there are a multitude of suspects including her boyfriend Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), and a local wife beating dope dealer named Leo (Eric Da Re). Adding to the mystery are the facts that come out about Laura's secret life. Her best friend, Donna (Laura Flynn Boyle) is at first hesitant to talk about it but the local schoolgirl vamp, poor little rich girl Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) has no qualms about talking to Agent Cooper about anything he'd like. And then there's the sinister man known only as Bob (Frank Silva) and his friend, a strange one-armed man (Al Strobel).
To complicate matters further, there are subplots revolving around the sale of the local sawmill, a few steamy clandestine love affairs, and the increasingly strange lives of grieving parents of Laura Palmer, Leland (Ray Wise) and Sarah (Grace Zabriskie). The local gas station owner, Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill) has to deal with his one-eyed wife, Nadine (Wendy Robie), and her fixation on the noise level of her curtain rods while his nephew, James Hurley (James Marshall), turns out to know more about this case than he first let on. A lady who cradles a log, known only as The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson), drops vague hints about the crime. As Cooper and Truman get closer to solving the case, Cooper starts seeing things in his dreams - he continually goes to a red room where a strange dwarf drops hints to him and where a dead ringer for Laura Palmer sits and waits.
The mystery surrounding Laura's death and the various subplots that the event revealed made up the first season but once the second season began, the show went in a different direction with many of the same characters. Audrey's career moves at One Eyed Jack's weren't working out so well and the conflict between Bobby and James had come to a head as had the problems with Shelly and her husband Leo. Sawmill owner Josie Packard (Jean Chen) has disappeared, and Dale Cooper has been injured. The show gets mired under its own subplots for the first part of the second season but soon gets back on track despite laying on the quirk a little too thick for the show's own good. As the show returns to the resolution of Laura's murder and then explains why it happened in the first place, we're introduced to a few more interesting supporting characters such as D.E.A. Agent Dennis (David Duchovney) and John Justice Wheeler (Billy Zane). We also get to learn more about the characters and their lives as we see what really makes them tick. All the while, the mystery continues to unfold...
While it's pretty much universally agreed upon that the first season of the series is brilliant while the second season is merely adequate, when watching the series in its entirety as it's presented in this set the division doesn't seem quite as strong. While it's true that the later episodes feel like they're simply weird for the sake of weird (contrasted to the first batch where the strange events happen for a reason) and that the second half of the show relied on guest stars and celebrity cameos a little too heavily (look for a young Heather Graham to show up as well as a bit part played by Lynch himself), seen as a whole Twin Peaks holds up remarkably well. Yes, there are certainly elements in the show that go so far out of the realm of possibility that it all becomes completely unrealistic (the black and white lodges and Cooper's chess game for example) but this doesn't tarnish the series enough to harm it as a single piece of entertainment. Obviously certain episodes are stronger than others, this is true for both seasons of the show, but the series remains one of the strongest, most creative shows of the nineties.
One of the recurring themes in David Lynch's work is that small town America may look wholesome on the surface but really, underneath it all, it's got issues. We saw this in Blue Velvet and we definitely see it in Twin Peaks. The series blends his love of Americana and old Hollywood production values with fifties wardrobe and oddball jazz music and comes out as something akin to a very skewed version of old cliffhanger serial. Aside from the quirk, however, there are some key characteristics of the series, exceptional ones, that make it stand out.
The ensemble cast that was put together for the series is fantastic. Kyle MacLachlan is perfect as the straight laced and eccentric F.B.I. agent with a penchant for coffee and pie and he contrasts really well with the down-to-earth small-town sensibilities of Michael Ontkean as Harry S. Truman. Heading up the trio of youthful femme fatales in the cast is Laura Flynn Boyle who has the right kind of doe-eyed charm to play nice girl Donna. Sheryl Lee is great as the homecoming queen with a secret while Sherilyn Fenn is the perfect seductive vamp - when she tied that cherry stem into a bow with her tongue, an entire nation of heterosexual men took notice! Quirky performances from Joan Chen, Ray Wise and especially Catherine Coulson ensure that as bizarre as the series got, it was always well acted by a very capable cast of performers.
Then there's the whole 'look' of the series. Shot by Frank Byers (who would shoot Sherilyn Fenn again a few years later for Boxing Helena), Twin Peaks would turn out to be one of the most visually haunting shows in television history. From the opening moments where Laura Palmer is found dead, wrapped in plastic, to the later soap opera style drama surrounding the saw mill and the hotel or even later material like the One Eyed Jacks episodes, everything looks slick and polished. The show remains incredibly colorful and the camera captures all manner of strange details even during darker scenes. On top of the great visuals is a truly haunting and instantly recognizable score from long time Lynch collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, the music may initially sound melodramatic and over done but in keeping with the 'serial' nature of the series it couldn't be more suitable.
While it wasn't with us long, the show would span a theatrical follow up (technically a prequel) in the form of Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me, that would actually tie up quite a few loose ends. Sadly that film has not been included in this set, but the cultural impact of the series has been felt in plenty of television shows that have come since like The X-Files and other shows with a supernatural twist. Fan conventions continue to happen every year or so and soundtrack albums remain in print. The series had a healthy second run on Bravo! once it was finished and has remained popular on home video for years with each re-release seeming to garner the series more fans. In many ways the series is timeless, it rarely feels dated or like a product of the early nineties, rather it seems to take place in its own time and in its own world.
The series was shot and composed for television so the 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio that each one of the episodes in this set is presented in is definitely correct. For the most part, the material looks great in this set. Color reproduction is first rate and although there are a few spots in the pilot where the black levels fluctuate a bit, for the most part the darker scenes are nice and strong. Detail is excellent in both the foreground and the background and there aren't any problems with compression artifacts. Only a slight trace of edge enhancement is apparent and aside from the odd speck or two, print damage is all but eliminated.
Those of us who get really anal retentive about such things may notice that for some strange reason, the fourth chapter of the Pilot Episode is not flagged for progressive scan. This occurs in both versions (Paramount has included the North American version and the International Version of the pilot). The rest of the episode is properly flagged, so it's an unusual anomaly to say the least, but nevertheless, for a few minutes you may just see some of those ugly saw tooth artifacts. The rest of the episodes are properly flagged. Odd.
That one unusual (and minor) complaint aside, however, Twin Peaks really does look damn good on DVD here.
The sound has been re-mastered in English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with an optional 2.0 Stereo track also included as well as alternate language dub Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital Mono mixes. Subtitles, optional of course, are provided in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The DTS mixes that were included on the stand alone release of the first season have unfortunately not been included with this new set.
So we don't get the DTS tracks, ok, what about what we do get? The Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in this set are pretty impressive. The score swells up nicely during all the right times while the dialogue remains clean, clear and concise throughout. Bass response could have been a little boomier in a few spots but it's there when you want it to be and if it isn't quite as strong as it could have been, at least it's never overpowering. No problems with hiss or distortion to report, and overall things really sound quite good across the board throughout the set.
Paramount has put the bulk of the extra features on the last, tenth disc in the set but with that said, there are a few other, minor goodies stashed within the confines of the other nine discs. Here's a look at what's included and where you'll find it:
Each episode contains the optional Log Lady Introductions which were taped when the show was shown in syndication. These were included on the Artisan release for Season One and it's nice to see them carried over here. Though few of them run for more than thirty seconds in length, they're interesting little bits of foreshadowing and fit perfectly with the strange atmosphere that the show created.
Included on the first disc is not only the original North American pilot episode but also the alternate European pilot, which contains a drastically different ending that reveals the identity of Laura's murderer. Absolutely do not watch this version of the pilot until you've gone through the regular episodes or the whole first season is going to be completely spoiled for you.
Look for just under six-minutes of deleted scenes (four scenes in total - Jerry's Wandering Eve, 27 Going On 6, Lucy Andy And Donuts, Something About Johnny) included in the set. None of these add much to the episode they were taken from and they're presented here in rough shape, obviously taken from a tape source. That said, it's interesting to see them even if they're really only curiosity items rather than essential excised bits. A few production documents (twenty images - just call sheets and production break downs) are also included. All of this material can be found in the Lost And Found section of disc nine. The deleted scenes are available to watch on their own or through a 'play all' button.
The tenth disc is where the bulk of the extra features is found, starting with A Slice Of Lynch (29:53) which is an interesting sit down chat with the man himself. Set inside a familiar looking tavern, Lynch orders a slice of cherry pie while images from the series flash through his mind. Three cast-members show up (Kyle MacLachlan, John Wentworth and Madchen Amick) and a discussion ensues, and we learn why David Lynch calls Kyle MacLachlan Kale instead. We learn about the casting of the show and what it was like to work on it, and there are some fun back and forth moments here where Lynch talks about the core sacred mystery of the show which served as a tree, holding the other mysteries of the show as its branches. Lynch talks about shooting the core moment with 'Bob' and he wiggles his fingers a lot. Lynch might be getting stranger with age, but either way, this is a fun conversation.
The biggest and best of the extras on this set is Secrets From Another Place: Creating Twin Peaks (1:45:41) which is a fantastic feature length documentary that contains interviews with a wealth of people involved in various aspects of the series. Divided into four chapters (watch them on their own or through the 'play all' button), this documentary covers creating the pilot, creating season one, creating the music and creating season two. Look for interviews here with Mark Frost, Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick, Angelo Badalamenti, Jula Bell, Julee Cruise, Joan Chen, Catherine E. Coulson, Don S. Davis, Caleb and Mary Jo Deschanel, Sherilyn Fenn, Miguel Ferrar, Todd Holland, Richard Hoover, Piper Laurie, Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise and more. Through these interviews and a bunch of behind the scenes photos we're taken through pretty much the entire history of the series from start to finish. We learn about casting, location shooting, what it was like working with CBS, set design, the score, art direction and more. It's an extremely extensive piece and a total joy for any fan of the series.
Paramount has also included two clips from the episode of Saturday Night Live (from 9/29/1990) that Kyle MacLachlan hosted. There are two segments included, the Monologue With Kyle MacLachlan (4:28) bit and the Twin Peaks Sketch (9:07) bit. Phil Hartman does a damn funny Leland Palmer impersonation.
In the Twin Peaks Festival section we find Return To Twin Peaks (19:41), which is an interesting look at the fan community that's grown around the show. There are a bunch of interviews with various fan festival attendees and organizers as well as some clips from the gatherings and from the costume contest. We see some of the Washington locations as they look today as well as clips of some of the co-coordinators of the show speaking at the convention. There's also an interactive map of the town included in this section.
The Black Lodge Archive contains a bunch of interesting, smaller supplements starting with the music video for Falling (4:19) which features Julee Cruise singing over clips from the show. Five Georgia Coffee Commercials (which were shown on TV in Japan) starring the cast of the show are here, as are three image galleries. Five on air promo spots are archived in this section along side a promo spot and eight messages from a Twin Peaks 1-900 # ad where you could call and buy hints. Six Lucy Bumpers are also included.
Rounding out the extra features are some stylish animated menus, episode selection, and scene selection included on each disc. The ten discs in the set all sit inside bound plastic insert cases, which in turn fit inside a slipcase. Inside the packaging there is also an envelope containing some Twin Peaks posts cards (some of which contain randomly inserted cards autographed by Lynch). There are sixty cards all together but you're only going to get ten inside your set, which is more than a little frustrating. Also inside the packaging is an advertisement slick for David Lynch's coffee!
So with all that nifty bonus material included, why not score the extras with a five out of five? Because unfortunately the following supplements from the individual Season One and Season Two boxed set releases are missing:
The main missing extra features are the seven commentary tracks that were included on the Artisan stand alone release of Season One which feature thoughts from the following participants:
Episode One: Duwayne Dunham - Director
Episode Two: Frank Byers - Director Of Photography
Episode Three: Tina Rathbone - Director
Episode Four: Tim Hunter - Director and Robert Engels - Writer
Episode Five: Lesli Linka Glatter - Director
Episode Six: Caleb Deschanel - Director and Harley Peyton - Writer
Episode Seven: Richard Hoover - Series Production Designer
-The script notes that were included on the Artisan release of Season One are not included as are the Previously On Twin Peaks episode bumpers, the Mark Frost Phone Interview and the Learning To Speak In The Red Room featurette. Included on the Season Two DVD release but not carried over to this set are the director interviews, and the forty-minutes worth of actor interviews.
Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition looks and sounds great and it contains a wealth of extra features but without all the extras from previous releases included and without Fire Walk With Me it can't really be called definitive, can it? That said, CBS/Paramount have done a nice job on this release. We've not been given everything but we've been given a lot and in great quality too. The show holds up exceptionally well, the first season in particular, and there's no reason why this set can't come highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.