Saturday, 25 January 2014

Twin Peaks

As many of you will know, I have been watching Twin Peaks of late - I know it is 24 years old, but I missed it the first time round. I think, in truth, I am probably enjoying it more now than I would have then.

When the title sequence starts, the music and the images indicate that this is a story of good ol' boys in some provincial American town. Sort of updated Waltons. It isn't of course, but it is against this backdrop that the story develops - and it is probably because of this timeless concept that it still works today.

Much has been written over the years on the influence of this series, and as I watch it, I can see the influence on pretty much all of the top drama produced since that point. The surrealism was reflected in Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, which would not have been possible without Twin Peaks. The idea of alternative approaches to solving crimes is reflected in shows like the Mentalist, Perception, Lie to Me, Castle.

The concept of hallucinations or dreams or suchlike was seen again, to great effect in the Ally McBeal series - the use of the dancing baby becoming legendary. That level of oddity was only possible after Twin Peaks broke ground there.

The humour is also something that was not really seen previously. It is very dark humour, but not like in MASH or Catch 22, where the characters have a black sense of humour, it is very much the audience being encouraged to laugh at some of the characters. They are played deliberately for laughs, but it is not a comedy - the tone is serious. It is a cruel comedy, but funny nonetheless. Some of this comedy is seen in series like The Bridge, where Saga is, partly, a comic figure, because of her autistic tendencies. In truth, it is not her illness that is being laughed at, it is her lack of awareness of it - although the difference is subtle. Done well, it is not cruel, not callous, but it is making light of things that are normally taken too seriously.

It is also another series that was killed off by the TV executives (*cough cough* Firefly *cough cough*). In all honesty, it could have done another series, with the murderer being revealed at the end almost as a by line - the murder of Laura Palmer is the thread throughout the series, but her murderer is not actually that important. I would not have wanted it to go on like Lost (another series that would not have happened without Twin Peaks) beyond the point of acceptability, but it could have done more, and still left people wanting.

The story of an outsider brought in to investigate a murder, who has to, as part of the job, uncovers all sorts of secrets about the town - a storyline very familiar to fans of Broadchurch - is important. There is an idea here that I want to explore a little more.

One truth is that when you start to look into peoples lives, they are rarely as delightful and positive as they appear. Everyone has secrets, everyone lies. We can show disappointment when we find this out, or accept it as the way that humans are made, and get on with it. The point it shows is that, when you start to delve deeper, everyone - not just some people - everyone has hidden aspects. Nobody is perfect.

The other truth is, in proper Twin Peaks style, rather more obtuse. It is that you can start by looking for one thing - Laura's murderer - and find quick enough that this is not the real story, the real matter of importance. Truth is so often far more complex and obscure than it appears. We can search for one thing, and actually realise that we need to look at other things.

There is one more aspect that I think it worth considering - that we should not dismiss the supernatural, dreams, the obscure in providing guidance to us. One can argue that it is nothing more than our minds trying to express things to us that we already know, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't listen. However we get inspiration, embrace it, let it guide you. The truth is that the answers we need, might be in The Other Place. Wherever that is.

The series is excellent. If you get a chance to watch it, do. But don't expect it to be easy.

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