Why Twin Peaks season 3 is going to be the most important TV of 2017.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave or stuck in a coma and have just now come back to the world, you might have heard that 2017 will feature the return of Twin Peaks. That’s right, the iconic murder-mystery series created in 1989 by auteur David Lynch (Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive) and scribe Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues, Storyville) is being resurrected for pay-cable channel Showtime more than a quarter-century after its abrupt (and unfair) cancellation by ABC. If you’re a fan of the series, this news is nothing less than a miracle, it is an impossible thing hoped for by millions who never really thought they could get it but still never gave up their fervent faith. If you aren’t a fan – that is, if you’re unfamiliar with the original series – this news can be culturally confusing: you understand that there’s something seriously significant about this, you’re just not entirely sure what. You might even get the gist of Twin Peaks (it’s dark and weird, right?) but is that really enough to prepare you for tuning in to season 3? And is it worth going through the already-existing 30+ hours of the original series to get caught up?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: from a cultural, narrative, and industrial standpoint, Twin Peaks season 3 is poised to be the most important television event of not just the year, or even the decade, but the century and possibly even the medium until now. Think I’m blowing smoke? Give me another few hundred words and I’ll have you as hyped as the most die-hard Peakie.
From a cultural standpoint, the resurrection of Twin Peaks is the most significant fan-victory in all of pop culture. Sure, series have been saved before by fan demand – Chuck, Friday Night Lights, Jericho – or by other networks picking them up after they were originally dropped – Arrested Development, Longmire, The Killing – but never after as long as Twin Peaks has been off the air. Granted, there was an eight-year hiatus between seasons 3 and 4 of Arrested, but that’s still less than a third of the time between the final episode of Twin Peaks season 2, which aired in June of 1991, and the first episode of season 3, which is expected in the late-spring/early-summer of 2017. While this third season of Twin Peaks wasn’t technically made possible by fan demand, it was made possible by fan persistence. For 25 years the community of Twin Peaks’ aficionados have kept the series alive via chatrooms and websites like WelcomeToTwinPeaks.com, periodicals like Wrapped in Plastic, and books of criticism like Full of Secrets. While everyone else who had experienced Twin Peaks the first time around moved on, Peakies kept the show accessible for new viewers who didn’t have the cultural context to understand it. This passing on of passion lasted long enough and grew strong enough that modern-day executives could be convinced bringing the show back after a quarter-century would turn a profit. In fact, it’s arguable that Twin Peaks boasts more fans today than it ever did while airing, which would certainly seem to be supported by the fact that Showtime has given it a bigger budget than ABC ever did, as well as significantly more authorial control to its creators. Long story short: as much as people love Firefly, do you really think we’ll finally get that second season in 2030?
To be fair though, Firefly and most other series don’t lend themselves to being picked up again after so long. Narratively, though, Twin Peaks does, and that’s another reason you need to get all caught up so you can watch along with season 3. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal any plotpoints that spoil the series to-date, but suffice it to say, the forces at play in Twin Peaks make a gap this large in the narrative an advantage, not a hindrance, and in fact it was foreordained. Towards the end of the original series, a certain character tells another certain character (see? no spoilers) that he/she will see him/her again in 25 years. I’m not kidding. And while the third season was never planned to take place that long after the second – co-creator Mark Frost claims to have forgotten the line until rewatching a handful of years back; this line convinced him they could resurrect – it certainly is serendipitous. Furthermore, the idea introduced in the final scene of the final episode (an episode that until recent developments has been considered the most frustrating cliffhanger in all of television history) is also one that benefits from age, as the terror it induced only gets stronger upon such a lengthy percolation. And as all that wasn’t enough, this isn’t Lost, it isn’t Battlestar: Galactica, there are no obvious or even predictable conclusions to this high-concept drama. This is Twin Peaks. The whole point is that no one ever saw any of it coming. Even if you did predict Laura Palmer’s killer or the end of The Black Lodge arc, you didn’t predict the “how,” just the “what” or “who.” In an era where everyone is trying to unravel the mysteries of TV shows from the pilot on – Westworld, anyone? – it should strike you as refreshing that there’s a mystery coming whose solution is absolutely and utterly unknowable, possibly even after it’s revealed.
And that’s just one of the facets of Twin Peaks that’s going to make its third season significant from an industrial perspective, as well. Twin Peaks was the first series to really inject a sense of the cinematic into television, and the latter medium was never the same. In the introduction to my own essay collection, Between Two Worlds, I assign the series credit for being the one that birthed our modern, “Golden Age” of dramatic television typified by shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and Mad Men, for the way it defied every expectation of the form, the way it eschewed every traditional approach and in fact subverted and twisted them to its own whims. There was never a story told like Twin Peaks, about what Twin Peaks was about, and featuring the kind of characters Twin Peaks featured. It was high-art meets low-brow and in that murky median it found a new way of telling new stories to the masses that has since been adopted over and over again. It is the Seinfeld of dramas in that every important series like it that came after borrowed from or was influenced by its unique approach to the medium. David Chase, creator of The Sopranos – which really kicked the Golden Age into gear by helping HBO original programming rise to narrative television dominance – freely and quickly admits he never would have attempted his groundbreaking series if Twin Peaks hadn’t already paved the way. Even today there are still shows attempting to replicate the atmosphere and tone of Twin Peaks – people are actually calling the new Archie show, Riverdale, “Teen Peaks” – but these shows are just that, replications, copies, they can’t do what Twin Peaks does because they just aren’t Twin Peaks. The show changed the industry once, who’s to say it won’t again?
So then don’t you frankly owe it to yourself to watch the new season of Twin Peaks when it airs next year? Don’t you deserve to be a part of the impending cultural obsession with its many myriad mysteries? Yes, yes you do. But you don’t have a lot of time. Thought here’s no release date yet, new episodes are right around the corner.
Twin Peaks is currently streaming on Netflix, and if you’re a Showtime subscriber – which you’re going to need to be to see season 3 – you can watch all the old episodes on their digital platforms starting this week. But if you don’t have the time or you need some help understanding all the weirdness, we got you. Follow the series with our handy episode guide nearby, it’ll clear up all your questions. Hope to see you in those dark, dark woods.