David Lynch’s TV Series

Twin Peaks (1990-1991)

Of the genre mystery horror drama, Twin Peaks was created by Mark Frost and David Lynch and premiered on April 8, 1990, on ABC. Though it was one of the most popular series of 1990, the series was cancelled after its second season in 1991 due to declining ratings. Despite this, Twin Peaks has been referenced widely in the media and gained a cult following.

Drawing on elements of detective fiction, the show follows FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, who investigates the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer, starring Sheryl Lee, in the fictional suburban town by the name of Twin Peaks, Washington. Also, the series’ supernatural elements, uncanny tone as well as the melodramatic portrayal of characters heavily draw on horror tropes as well as on American soap opera. Naturally, it also contains typically Lynchian characteristics as surrealism, distinctive cinematography, and offbeat humor. The acclaimed score was composed by Lynch’s longtime collaborator Angelo Badalamenti in cooperation with the mastermind himself.

Prior to the TV premiere of the one and a half hour pilot, there was a screening at the Museum of Broadcasting in Hollywood. Advertising executive and media analyst Paul Schulman opined that the series had no chance of succeeding, since it was radically different from what the viewers were accustomed to seeing, it was not commercial, and there was no character in the show to root for. Although the show’s night time slot on Thursdays has not been optimal for soap operas and Twin Peaks also had to compete with the immensely successful sitcom Cheers, the pilot was viewed by 33% of the audience. When it was broadcast as a regular one-hour drama series, the show even reduced Cheers’ ratings! Furthermore, the viewer base grew gradually because of “the water cooler syndrome”, as Alan Wurtzel, ABC’s senior vice-president of research, termed it. Which means that people talked about the show the next day at work.

Initially, Twin Peaks received positive reviews from TV critics. Entertainment Weekly, for example, gave the show an “A+” rating, and Richard Zoglin from Time magazine, among others, described it as “the most hauntingly original work ever done for American TV”. Since the series had achieved a 22 share of the audience, it was announced on May 22, 1990, that there would be a second season. Yet, when the identity of Laura Palmer’s murderer was revealed in the second season, the audience numbers began to drop. It is to be mentioned that Lynch never wanted to solve the murder, but Frost felt that they were obliged to do it, which created tension between the two.

Nonetheless, the series was followed by Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a feature film produced in 1992, which serves as a prequel to the show. After a break of over 25 years, a third season, marketed as Twin Peaks: The Return, was broadcast on Showtime in 2017.

For its first season, the show received fourteen nominations at the 42nd Primetime Emmy Awards as well as four nominations at the 43rd Primetime Emmy Awards for its second season.  Moreover, it won in the categories Best TV Series – Drama, Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series – Drama, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV at the 48th Golden Globe Awards.

American Chronicles (1990)

A part of Fox Broadcasting Company’s 1990 fall lineup, American Chronicles is a documentary television program. It was produced by Lynch/Frost Productions and featured the hallmarks of the ABC program Twin Peaks as unusual music, quirky camera angles, as well as sexuality and violence. The half-hour weekly episodes were narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. The program was cancelled after just three months due to weak ratings.

While Lynch served as an uncredited Executive Producer, and also co-directed one episode called “Champions” that was only aired in the UK, American Chronicles was mainly the work of Mark Frost. Together with his team, he roamed to country to put their skewed perspective on the American landscape. In addition, the episodes have an unconventional format, consisting of about 18 minutes of pure montages, which are basically just images set to music, combined with occasional voiceovers like ‘The spirits, spent and weary, wander back to their otherworldly realms’.

Some episodes consist of two stories, such as “Truck Stop” and “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”, which are characterized by a negative spin on presumably joyous activities. The most famous episode of the series and also the most traditionally documentary-like in terms of format, is “Once Upon a Time” about Hugh Hefner’s life and the creation of the Playboy empire.

As a whole, the series is primarily a video wallpaper, not as much designed to be actively watched, but rather being played in the background. While the episodes present an often clichéd and superficial look at the subject matter, the show is skillfully edited and well photographed.

American Chronicles was aired in France by Planète, in Spain by TVE, in the United Kingdom by Channel 4 as well as in New Zealand by TV3 in 1992, and one year later in Australia by SBS.

On the Air (1992)

This television sitcom was created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and produced by Lynch/Frost Productions. It was aired on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) from June 20 to July 4, 1992. The series revolves around the staff of a fictional 1950s television network, who produce The Lester Guy Show, a live variety program – often with terrible results. Only three of the seven filmed episodes were broadcast in the United States, whereas the first (and only) season was aired in the UK as well as several other European countries.

The series features Ian Buchanan, Nancye Ferguson, Marla Rubinoff, Gary Grossman, David L. Lander, Marvin Kaplan, Tracey Walter and Kim McGuire. Moreover, several directors worked on the show, including Lynch, Jack Fisk, Betty Thomas and Lesli Linka Glatter.

There is a large consensus that the show’s pilot is its best episode with a strong voice behind it. The finale devolves into a colossal mime/beatnik interpretive dance of insanity, which is about six minutes long. But as the show progresses, the content slowly decreases. This might be ascribed to the various writers, who attempted to carry forward the pilot’s strong voice into the consecutive episodes, while at the same time fumbling under pressure. Still, the viewer gets something unique and different every week. This comedy sticks out from the majority of TV because of its degree of surprise and joy.

Lynch explained the thought process behind the sitcom by stating, ‘Absurdity is what I like most in life, and there’s humor in struggling in ignorance. If you saw a man repeatedly running into a wall until he was a bloody pulp, after a while it would make you laugh because it becomes absurd. But I don’t just find humor in unhappiness – I find it extremely heroic the way people forge on despite the despair they often feel’. The impulses make more sense, if the viewer understands Lynch’s intention behind the show.

On the Air is also quite unpalatable and confusing in terms of its characters. Valdja Gochktch, the director of the Lester Guy Show, for example, speaks in an incredibly garbled foreign speak, and needs to be translated by another character by the name of Ruth Trueworthy, who’s sole function is that of a translator. He will bark out, for instance,  ‘Can you scram?’, which is eventually “decoded” into ‘Can you scream?’. And then, there is also the character Blinky, who suffers from a disease called Bozeman’s Simplex that enables him to see 25.62 times more than the average human being. His perspective is often being represented in the form of kaleidoscopic, random images thrown everywhere.

Hotel Room (1993)

Also called David Lynch’s Hotel Room, this drama anthology series was broadcast on HBO on January 8, 1993 for three half-hour episodes, which were repeated the next night. David Lynch created this memorable bit of black comedy with Monty Montgomery and directed two episodes written by Barry Gifford. Credit for the third screenplay goes to Bright Lights, Big City’s Jay McInerney. Each drama takes place in hotel room number 603 of the Railroad Hotel in New York City, in the years 1936, 1969 as well as 1992, and stars different actors. The three episodes were designed to be aired as one feature-length pilot, with the hope that the reception would be good and more episodes would be produced later. Yet the feedback was negative to lukewarm, and HBO decided not to produce further episodes.

The opening of Hotel Room as well as the voice-over are very pretentious, almost self-indulgent, so that one might hope for them to actually dissolve into witting self-parody. Yet the first episode called “Tricks” dashes the viewers’ hopes in this regard. What is more, the twist finale seems to be intended to fool the audience into thinking that they just sat through something else than a half-hour of mere nonsense.

The ending of “Getting Rid of Robert” redeems James Signorelli’s sloppy direction, the lackluster performances of Deborah Unger, Mariska Hargitay and Chelsea Field to a certain degree. When Robert, played by Griffin Dunne, shows up and spells out Unger’s flaws, her hair is blocking the audience’s view of Dunne’s face.

In the concluding episode “Blackout”, Lynch and Gifford do not allow anything of interest to happen, apparently concerned that “Tricks” succumbed too much to conventional dramaturgy. As previously mentioned, the three episodes are set in different years, which are between 20 to 30 years apart, but still the same maid and the ageless bellboy appear in all three.

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

The sequel to Twin Peaks season one and two, which were aired in 1990 and 1991, consists of 18 episodes and was broadcast on May 21, 2018 on Showtime. It was developed and written by Mark Frost and David Lynch over several years. The show features new cast members as well as an ensemble of returning stars including Kyle MacLachlan.

Set 25 years later, Twin Peaks: The Return follows multiple storylines, many of which are related to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and his investigations regarding the murder of the town’s homecoming queen Laura Palmer. This time, the plot also takes place in settings beyond Twin Peaks, including South Dakota, Philadelphia, New Mexico, and Las Vegas. Basically, the third season is about Agent Cooper’s odyssey back to the fictional Washington State town of Twin Peaks.

The third season earned Lynch critical acclaim, with praise mainly centering on its performances, visual invention, structure and unconventional narrative. Numerous publications, including Esquire, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone, named it 2017’s best television sitcom.

Kyle MacLachlan’s return to the series was confirmed on January 12, 2015. Michael Ontkean, who portrayed Sheriff Harry S. Truman in the previous seasons, has since retired from his acting career. At first, Robert Forster was reported to fill the role, but was later confirmed as playing Harry’s brother, Frank Truman. David Duchovny returned as the character of Agent Denise Bryson, while Miguel Ferrer reprised his role as Albert Rosenfield, Richard Beymer and David Patrick Kelly were reported to return as Benjamin Horne and Jerry Horne respectively. The role of Gersten Hayward was repeatedly played by Alicia Witt. Michael J. Anderson refused to take up his role as The Man from Another Place.

Furthermore, it was reported that Lynch would again embody the role as Gordon Cole. Also, Laura Dern, Lynch’s frequent collaborator, was cast in a “top-secret pivotal role”, which later on proved to be Diana, originally the unseen character, to whom Cooper dictated taped messages. In April 2016, a complete cast list including 217 actors, was released.

David Bowie was asked to repeat his cameo appearance from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries. Yet, for health reasons, Bowie’s lawyer declined the offer. Nonetheless, Bowie gave his permission to reuse old footage, but was quite unhappy with his accent in the film. Hence the casting of Nathan Frizzell as the voice of Jeffries came about, due to Bowie’s request that he be dubbed over by an actor with an authentic Louisiana accent.

It was originally agreed upon, that Twin Peaks: The Return would premiere in 2016. However, the show began filming in September 2015, and Showtime president David Nevins voiced his doubts that the series might not be finished on time: ‘I’m hoping we make 2016. It’s not clear. […] I don’t know [how many episodes there will be]. They’re going to decide, I expect it to be more than nine, but it’s open-ended. I know what the shooting schedule is and then we’ll have him cut into it however many episodes it feels best at.’ The third season was shot from one long shooting script and was then edited into episodes.