TV Review: David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

Kyle MacLachlan in a still from
Suzanne Tenner

David Lynch returns to the small screen in Showtime's reboot, which confounds and indulges but still communicates astonishing vision

The stature of “Twin Peaks,” David Lynch’s two-season surreal murder mystery that ran on ABC in the early ‘90s, is such that its modern-day reboot almost defies interpretation. Showtime’s “Twin Peaks: The Return” picks up the story of Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) 25 years later, and attempts to be an homage, a sequel, and a standalone story. The unique nature of this revival is overshadowed by the fact that the show itself was always a surprising, weird gem in the otherwise predictable stable of broadcast television programming. It’s hard to know whether it is more surprising that “Twin Peaks” ever existed or caught in the first place, or that 27 years after its cancellation, it has returned on premium cable with so much of the original cast and crew preserved. Lynch brought auteur-ish filmmaking to television, which elevated the medium for many viewers. Now its most prestigious, high-minded arm has brought him back. And it has the marketing blitz to prove it.

This is a long way of saying that it is difficult to know where to begin with Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” which premiered its first two parts Sunday night. Fans of Lynch — and fans of the series, who have mythologized its idiosyncratic details over the last two decades — will take in the director’s vision with open arms, savoring its bizarre iconography and nonlinear storytelling. They will undoubtedly find a lot to be happy with in this two-hour premiere, which is parts 1 and 2 of “Twin Peaks: The Return” (though there is no clear delineation between parts). Lynch, who directed the episode and co-wrote it with Mark Frost, begins with the Black Lodge, which he explored extensively in the second-season finale and in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” the prequel film. The new “Twin Peaks” uses grounding footage from the old “Twin Peaks” to establish some of the basics of the mythology: Cooper is stuck in the Lodge while his doppelgänger — inhabited by Bob (Frank Silva), an evil spirit — is in the world. Lynch, throughout “Twin Peaks,” is at his absolute best in Black Lodge scenes, and there is a bit of relief in seeing that even in this Showtime interpretation, the Black Lodge is still eerie and destabilizing.

At the same time, the Black Lodge is also where one of the first obvious differences between the old and new “Twin Peaks” emerges: the simple fact of production values. Much of the odd, creepy charm of the original “Twin Peaks” was that Lynch was shoehorning his bizarre vision into a murder arc of a soap opera — with its interminable pacing, melodramatic music, and small-town archetypal characters. Part of that mood was a low-budget sensibility, which translated to artfully deliberate poor quality. It’s one of the reasons “Twin Peaks” is so aesthetically unique. But Showtime gave David Lynch nearly carte blanche for this new production, and as a result, it really doesn’t have that low-budget patina. The production values make for immersive, textured shots of the woods around the town of Twin Peaks — sometimes, the trees seem like more fleshed-out characters than the minor characters they are partially obscuring, and Lynch sometimes films unfolding scenes as if the viewer is just another character in a video game. But for every moment that feels fascinating in a new way, there is self-indulgence. The bankable popularity of “Twin Peaks” also makes for an inexplicably stupid scene at the Bang Bang where the indie-electronic band Chromatics performs to a room of middle-aged townies taking tequila shots. Nothing says rural, small-town, faded glory like an impossibly cool synthpop band. Could it be possible that sometimes, network notes are a good thing?

The finest scenes of the new “Twin Peaks” occur nowhere near Twin Peaks at all. In New York City — introduced in a swooping series of shots that feel like how an animated comic-book show would take us to the villain’s “HQ” — a man is watching, and filming, a glass box. It has a circular aperture that looks out onto the city from its high perch at the top of a skyscraper. And opposite the glass box is a couch, with two tasteful lamps and an end table. Sam’s job is to see if anything appears inside the box. If you watched “Twin Peaks” while sitting on a couch, you may have noticed that just as you watched a glass box waiting for something to happen, the box — and the man on it — watched you in return. That the box then erupts with something unnameably evil — just at the moment, of course, when Sam (Ben Rosenfield) is distracted by the charms of Tracey (Madeline Zima). Their violent, brutal death is not quite the type of gore that “Twin Peaks” is known for, but that’s what made it so interesting. The show’s aesthetic is typically fuzzy. But the glossy box gleams in its careful lighting, and in the middle the aperture is a perfect circle, an eye unto the world. The unnameable evil, when it emerges, is like a creature constructed of white noise, a blurry bit of static. It is terrifying.

A little less terrifying is what has become of Cooper’s doppelgänger — let’s just call him Evil Cooper. He is in Buckhorn, South Dakota, and he looks like a washed-up rocker from the ‘80s who never realized the party ended. MacLachlan is doused in spray tan and wearing snakeskin; Lynch’s manifestation of evil appears to be a guy wearing leather with a half-ponytail. The effect is kind of ludicrously seedy, and MacLachlan is a little uncomfortable there; he’s better in the moments where he is called on to emote silently while trapped in the Black Lodge. At the same time, Evil Cooper isn’t just a joke: In the back half of the episode, he kills Darya (Nicole LaLiberte) with close-range, heartless violence. Evil Cooper is creating mayhem for Bill Hastings (Matthew Lillard), who is beginning to have an arc that looks like Leland Palmer’s (Ray Wise) — he dreamed committing an awful murder that turns out to have been real. Evil Cooper follows his wife home, and then kills her with her lover’s gun, saying: “You did good. You followed human nature perfectly.”

Human nature sometimes seems like it is the furthest thing from Lynch’s mind. “Twin Peaks: The Return” contains several long shots that reduce its characters to just tiny figures in a vast landscape. And yet even amidst the new surrealities of the Black Lodge (the Arm is now a tree with a brain!?) its most meaningless stretches continue to delight him. “Twin Peaks” attention to the most bathetic moments of human existence is strangely comforting, even as a comedy of manners in an apartment complex’s anonymous hallway gives way, with one twisted doorknob, into a ritualistic horror show. Lynch and Frost have doubled their cast in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” out of apparent curiosity for how all of these people live. It’s at times a confounding amount of detail; late in the two-hour episode, when Jennifer Jason Leigh turns out to have been next door the whole time, the scale of what this reboot is trying to accomplish is both daunting and a little maddening.

“Twin Peaks: The Return” is weird and creepy and slow. But it is interesting. The show is very stubbornly itself — not quite film and not quite TV, rejecting both standard storytelling and standard forms. It’s not especially fun to watch and it can be quite disturbing. But there is never a sense that you are watching something devoid of vision or intention. Lynch’s vision is so total and absolute that he can get away with what wouldn’t be otherwise acceptable .

TV Review: David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks: The Return'

Limited series, 18 episodes (2 reviewed): Showtime, Sun. May 21, 9 p.m. 60 min.


Executive producers, David Lynch, Mark Frost, Sabrina S. Sutherland


Kyle MacLachlan

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  1. LeH says:

    I miss the old town charm funny agent cooper this is just a waste of time I keep waiting for it to get better and so far it sucks

    • Ruth Deutsch says:

      Just read an interview with Kyle MacLachlan that said by the end it would all make sense, even though it hasn’t yet. It would be nice for David Lynch to provide more of a framework and fewer random-seeming images and behaviors that we’re having to keep track of to make sense of later. OK, so who’s dream is this anyway?

  2. When I hear critics praising the show I am reminded of the emperor’s new clothes

  3. Shayna Adrian says:

    What a shame they didnt revert back to the style of the 1st season of Twin Peaks.
    Who is supporting this crud?
    Lynch gets in all his perverted violence and sex acts then makes azzes of all characters actors…. It is like a car wreck that people slow down for but then never find out what happened.

  4. Patricia J Hawkinson says:

    This last episode was so bad. Did Lynch have trouble trying to think of dialog? Is that why he showed a nuclear explosion going on and on and on and on and on only to end up with Nine Inch Nails going on and on and on and on and on and then some stupid woman on top of a mountain gasping in ecstasy over a gold globe with Bob’s face in it. Got a light Lynch? Because if you do you need to light the rest of the films for this series on fire; they are flat-out no good. I beg of you, quit embarrassing yourself and put us out of our misery.

  5. jpg9 says:

    Boring, boring, slow, tedious and painful, disconnected. Full of the I
    love wtf moments, but the whole return is a wt* moment. So disappointing

  6. Diane says:

    The reboot of Twin Peaks is so disturbingly violent that it offends all sense of humanity. After watching 6 of these episodes, I am asking myself why do I keep watching such an offensive and tasteless display. It is absolutely horrifying in parts, so the parts had better add up, or it is a complete waste of time!

  7. Gary says:

    The best show out there right now. It is quite disturbing and almost hypnotic to watch. I am savouring every moment of this amazing event.

  8. Paul says:

    I just watched episode 1 of the revival. It’s bad. It’s boring. The acting is stunted and has as much emotion as a dead fish. Plus few original cast in the episode.

    The original was superb. It was filmed beautifully and had a unique quality to it. It felt creepy.

    This series starts with what amounts to nothing extraordinary. I’m left to wonder if I’ll go to episode 3 if #2 doesn’t make me interested.

  9. PJ (though it is optional) says:

    The original Twin Peaks was riveting, humorous, and a total success. Not so the new series.
    David Lynch should have left well enough alone. He has taken characters and portrayed them as ridiculous and ignorant. There is no reason the characters shouldn’t have improved at their jobs and absolutely no reason for the supernatural to happen outside Twin Peaks; after all, that is where the white and black lodges are.

  10. Ad says:

    So sad to watch two greats like Miguel Ferrer and Michael Parks in their last hurrahs! What a horrible couple of months for iconic celebrity passings!

    RIP guys!

  11. Ad says:

    Sometimes very incoherent to say the least but just like in 1990-91 original, noirish, and entertainingly absurd! I’d watch this for week a being absolutely insanely confused instead of watching an even stupider reality show anytime! It’s a nice diversion from a world that unfortunately is filled now with stupid people who waste their lives caring about those idiot Armenian sluts jetsetting, selfish lifestyles!

  12. JM says:

    Stupidest crap for stupidest people. Absolutely inane and absurd.

  13. Kathy says:

    Twin peaks the return is so stupid I lost interest right away, at least could have staid with original story line…very disappointed

    • Roy says:

      You’re stupid, it was genius, this review was stupid too…

    • David says:

      Okay…how do u expect there to be a “continuing storyline” after everything that was previously released!? I just watched one and two. It’s hard to get over “AGENT DANZIG COOPER” having somehow been infiltrated by the one they refer to as “bob”. So there’s your “continuation”.
      If you were never a fan of twin peaks or David Lynch, you will not understand nor enjoy this unless you’re a film student, artist, noir film buff or just a fan of something different.
      You also have to have patience and an imagination. This is for the die-hard fans and the next generation of film/tv directors, writers, and cinematographers.
      May I ask you Kathy, if you’ve ever watched any other David Lynch films?? You do know Twin Peaks is his ONLY television series, correct. (Totally not being condescending or trying to patronize in anyway. I was legit scared to watch it cuz I thought it would be unbearable.) turns out I’m so enthralled it’s insane!!

  14. zagreus says:

    Not a big fan of this review. For one, the synth pop bands were excellent and enthralling… I’ve never watched the entire credits on a TV show before this show just to listen to the bands play. I feel that reviewers always get frustrated when they don’t understanding EVERYTHING about a story and how it will play out precisely and that’s the whole point of Twin Peaks, it uses dream logic at times and things should not play out like one expects. Most shows the plot is transparent a to b to c, but when a show confounds expectations reviewers start to whine. Just let the damn thing play out a little bit. Overall, however it was a positive review but let me just say categorically… no, damn it, network notes are not a good thing. Ugh.

    • CB says:

      I think you missed his point about the band. He wasn’t putting down The Chromatics; he was saying they seemed out of place here. I agree.

    • Ad says:

      I like the band The Chromatics and I think it kind of for this iconic she’s tone and personality! I wanna hear more from that band, cool sound!

  15. Steve Michaud says:

    Why do all you media types persist in calling it a “reboot” when it’s not?
    Do you people even know the difference anymore?

  16. Kelly Bailey says:

    It was absolutely mesmerizing. Anyone who is disappointed needs to stop watching the new series and comfort their poor little selves with a rewatch of the original series. Don’t bother with this one.

    I disagree that McLaughlin seemed uncomfortable as evil Dale. He was frightening and had solid footing as an actor. In comparison with his performance as the real Dale Cooper, this made for an intense tension that is already growing and more so within the viewer’s mind as we painfully wait for the next episode.

    I was enthralled by the opening episodes. I had worried for years that Twin Peaks should not be revisited but I was so, so wrong. I am ashamed to have doubted. It’s Lynch for god’s sake, what was I thinking.

  17. Ernie Ayala says:

    Such a disappointment. Was looking forward to Twin Peaks not Buckwad, South Dakota or New York. Lynch drew me in with showing how former cast members would be in on this. All cast members pretty much appeared in cameo roles with no foreseeable role in this boring visit to red rooms with people who cannot talk right. I miss all the town rubes from Twin Peaks, WA. Lynch missed the mark. Why did the original series die out? And then you come back 25 years later with the same Quintin Turantino type show? Good luck

  18. mark says:

    David Lynch productions always are more interesting on 2nd, 3rd etc viewings…..I saw this yesterday at 5pm and then re-watched it during the 8pm hour and even though it is meant to not show all its cards, it became more comprehensible and enjoyable the 2nd time around.

  19. Pierce says:

    I am bingeing six episodes today (Showtime Anytime). I am loving it so far. I think what makes it more enjoyable is watching it with someone who has no clue about the series, movie,or Lynch’s style. So, I get a lot of “what the hell?” and “What do you have me watching?” and then the “ah ha!” moments when certain parts begin to click into place.

  20. Maxly says:

    I found the two-hour premiere last night to be riveting, can’t-look-away TV. I’m happy that Showtime has allowed Lynch and Frost to finish telling this story. I’m not a Lynch devotee but did enjoy a lot of the original Twin Peaks series. While the first part of this new series stands on its own as auteur filmmaking, I was struck by certain differences between it and the original series. It has a different tone so far, with less empathy towards its characters and less self-consciously quirky humor. It’s more emotionally muted. The feeling was, overall, a bit darker, colder and more foreboding. As is now typical of prestige TV, the new series (outside of the Black Lodge) looks more naturalistic and authentic to reality. (Part of this, perhaps, is simply due to HD cameras and bigger production budgets, although I think at least some of it is because this new series, so far, very much looks like America today, while the original series was drenched in a sort of throwback 50’s nostalgia that gave it a patina of wholesomeness that contrasted with its dark underbelly and which helped to, in a way, de-contextualize the series from its present time, giving the whole thing the feeling of a waking dream.) I noticed a lot more ambient sound and less of Badalamenti’s swelling musical score last night too. That said, perhaps we’ll see those elements change somewhat as the new series unfolds. Or not. I guess both the original series and this new continuation have to be evaluated as products of their time. A lot has changed in TV over the past 26 years.

  21. Honey says:

    Where’s the humor? I loved the
    the humor of twin peaks and they’ve taken the joy of being dumb and just plain clueless. The quarks, the brainless actions of all were charming and different and not just the violence and the shoot them ups like other shows. I give them one more time to charm me or once again the program becomes another unwatchable program from the past.

    • Jon says:

      Give it time. The next two episodes were available to stream on the Showtime app immediately after, and I can promise you the humor is present in this new season…

  22. Jeff Huntley says:

    If the creative minds behind the Andy Griffith Show had joined forces with Alfred Hitchcock and Federico Fellini to produce episodic television, we would have Twin Peaks.

    I found this this review to be a tad tedious and rather off the mark in many ways.

    Some observations that leapt to the fore on my first, cursory, reading:

    The “stature” of the original series has nothing to do with the difficulty of “interpreting” the series redux. You are confusing two thoughts here and attempting to conjoin separate and unrelated notions. Had you stated that the stature of the former defies explanation (as opposed to interpretation) for the existence of the latter, I could accept that (as a correct statement form, albeit disagreeing with the conclusion itself). If you are intimating that interpretation of the meaning of the new series is impacted by the stature of its first incarnation, well, that is just plain wrong, since the two thoughts are inherently independent and unrelatable.

    As with any David Lynch work, the difficulty with interpretation of meaning is deliberate and intentional, exists regardless of whatever went before and has nothing whatsoever to do with the popularity and critical acclaim that was enjoyed by the original series. Please revisit my lead-off reference to Fellini, which was itself deliberate, inasmuch as both Fellini and Lynch have patent Jungian influences. And see what Fellini and Lynch have to say about meaning, and understanding their art. Fellini said “I don’t like the idea of ‘understanding’ a film. I don’t believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn’t. If you are moved by it, you don’t need it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it.” And Lynch himself said: “It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It is better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for someone else.”

    Your use of referent and possessive pronouns is very confusing to me here: “Now its most prestigious, high-minded has brought him back. And it has the marketing blitz to prove it.” I am nearly at a loss to fathom as to who or what “its” and “it” refers. I assume “him” refers to Mr. Lynch, and I must assume, given the preceding sentence about Showtime, that “it” and “its” refers to Showtime. My difficulty in understanding what you are attempting to say is the cognitive dissonance that I must overcome to accept the idea that Showtime represents the most prestigious and high-minded in the industry. This requires a mental leap that I am neither athletic nor bold enough to attempt.

    Nicole LaLiberte played the short-lived character Darya, not Delia.

    “Human nature sometimes seems like it is the furthest thing from Lynch’s mind.” Really? Because on one, simple and easy level, every moment of every Lynch film is all about the frailty of human nature, the yin and the yang, the tension between light and dark, the internal battle between good versus evil. Every scene is framed by disturbing and uncanny juxtapositions. The prosaic is fraught with the uncanny and the whimsical is punctuated by horror. The complex whole is so much more than the surface or the convenient label affixed thereto.

    “’Twin Peaks’ attention to the most bathetic moments of human existence is strangely comforting, even as a comedy of manners in an apartment complex’s anonymous hallway gives way, with one twisted doorknob, into a ritualistic horror show.” I am not entirely certain whether you meant “pathetic” (sad, inadequate and vulnerable) or are asserting that Lynch is focused on those moments of human existence that produce unintentional anticlimactic effects. One would have to assume it is “pathetic” and not “bathetic” inasmuch as the discovery of the murder victim was unlikely to cause disappointment at the end of an exciting or impressive series of events.

  23. Nicole LaLiberte’s character was Darya, not Delia as stated in the article.

    • Derek Rolando says:

      I enjoyed this comment. If one takes in Lynch’s work without expectations and nitpicking I myself can’t help but enjoy every odd unique purposely and beautifully framed second of these new episodes. Seeing Lynch is hands on with this unlike the original series which was left in the hands of other directors this is unabashedly artful and makes the original series loom commercial and network friendly. As a whole this body of work will hopefully inspire more creative outputs from others and hopefully open a door here and there for it cross the line from creative to commercial. In these blandly uncreative overly decisive times Twin Peaks is relevant more than ever.

  24. Ruth Deutsch says:

    I wasn’t looking for it but happened to notice a scene in which Agent Cooper was sitting in a BLUE VELVET chair. Inside joke or co-inkie-dink? I still love Lucy as one of my favorites. I’d love to see a show with her as a lead.

  25. Next week I’m going to get some medical Marijuana and dress in all blue velvet and hire one of the Little Women:LA to sit directly in front of me and eat a large pizza while I smoke and watch. No hush no no don’t talk just eat the pizza.

  26. Just watching Laura Palmers mother watching a violent nature show that reflected in the mirrors behind her was outright creepy and disturbing. .no zombies needed. While I’m glad the next episodes are readily available that was enough for one week I’m good till next Sunday. I’ll process this week first.

  27. Swan says:

    Also… really? You’re criticizing Kyle Maclachlan’s performance here? He was fantastic.

  28. Swan says:

    You are being way too harsh here. These first two episodes were fire. Straight up fire. I /want/ David Lynch to be the crazy overindulgent artist that he is. I go into a David Lynch movie with the expectation that he is going to go way too far and make me increasingly uncomfortable with each inch that he steps over the line. Actually, I was surprised by how coherent these episodes were. We got legit answers to some of the questions raised by the finale of season 2.

    I also think that Lynch is incorporating the mythology from some of his other films (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire, Lost Highway) into this new season of Twin Peaks. And that is exciting. I want a David Lynch magnum opus. Yes please. This is the boldest TV has ever been.

    Mark my words: You will give this shit a retroactive 9/10 in a few years. The negative opinions happen with every Lynch movie, just like they happened with every Kubrick movie.

  29. Karen says:

    I don’t see what you do re: difference in production values. I think the black lodge scenes are quite in sync with each other. There was more strobe light in the original, but that hardly counts. I agree with the other commenter, about Twin Peaks fans having an odd disinterest in the rest of Lynch’s work. Go look up “Lynch Rabbits” on YouTube. He’s really odd, and we are so lucky to get him back on TV, so just watch it all even if it seems slow or extra weird, because those who like the usual boring storytelling get all of TV, but us art freaks get nada, so give it ratings and don’t say boo. And we will get our fair fix of subversion of form and story and be happy. Kthxbai.

  30. Tyler Davis says:

    Twin Peaks basically invented this brand of Indie Synth Pop. Have you completely forgotten all the scenes at the Roadhouse with the synthpop band throughout the the original seasons? This is a poor review. Twin Peaks has always been strange and slow and, at times, unsatisfying. The show was never perfect and never tried to be.

    • JCF says:

      Twin Peaks certainly did not invent synty pop, but I agree, that the scene in the Roadhouse was an homage to the original series and well in line with the story. Where does the reviewer expected middle aged people to go out at night in a small and why even mention their age? Are they supposed to stop going out once they hit their 30’s? Ridiculous comment.

  31. Bangarang says:

    Loved the 4 episodes available so far, those having a hard time grasping the story are clearly not familiar with Lynch’s work past the original Twin Peaks. Season 3 is Fire Walk With Me by way of Mulholland Drive, it’s refreshing to see a show that challenges the viewer instead of dumbing itself down for the brain dead masses.

  32. Jacques Strappe says:

    Does slow, weird, non-linear storytelling EVER resonate as tedious, pretentious drivel among critics? Or does anything that is not linear conventional storytelling automatically rate as extraordinary even if it repetitively bizarre and makes zero sense?

    • Matrices says:

      Some critics came close to calling out Legion that way, though Noah Hawley has built up a lot of goodwill so they may have stopped short because of that.

    • Karen says:

      Well, I’m pretty bored with linear, 3 act storytelling, so as a viewer, I am going to applaud most efforts at subversion of the form. And David Lynch does a transfixing job of taking a typical story and finding the subconscious themes, the imagery that conveys story, and looking for something new in a world where nothing is new. So if critics point me in the direction of all that, yay critics.

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