Love in the Time of Reboots: My 2017 'Twin Peaks' Dysfunction
Despite the specter of disappointment, it's hard not to get excited over the potential of Twin Peaks' reboot.
Twin PeaksCast: Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Sheryl Lee, Everett McGill, Ray Wise
If you love something, let it go...to premium.
On April 25, Deadline released the full 217-person cast list for Showtime's 2017 reboot of Twin Peaks. It was a sobering reminder that this reboot is actually happening, and that I’ve no idea how it's going to turn out.
Original headliners returning for the series include Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, and Sheryl Lee. Lara Flynn Boyle, Piper Laurie, and Joan Chen are among those absent. Catherine Coulson, the actress who portrayed the show’s iconic "log lady", also appears on the list, furthering rumors that she filmed scenes before her death this past September.
For months, negotiations lurched back and forth between Lynch and Showtime. The premium network, known for series like Dexter and Homeland, released a YouTube teaser in October 2014. The accompanying description proclaimed, "Series creators and executive producers David Lynch and Mark Frost will write and produce all nine episodes of the limited series, and Lynch will direct every episode."
The projected 2016 release soon got pushed forward, and tensions surrounding Lynch's contract led some to believe it wouldn't happen at all. Then, in early May of 2015, Lynch tweeted, "After 1 year and 4 months of negotiations, I left because not enough money was offered to do the script the way I felt it needed to be done."
What followed was a torrent of public devastation and outrage. Fans demanded Showtime reconsider the offer, and Twin Peaks cast members recorded videos in support of their director. Despite the fact that Lynch didn't write/direct all of the original series episodes, and that co-creator and TV veteran Mark Frost's contributions are often undersold, most viewers see Lynch as the primary creative force of the show. Essentially, Twin Peaks without Lynch is like... not Twin Peaks.
Showtime seemed to agree. Whatever went down, a month later Lynch tweeted that: "It is !!! Happening again."
Now that the logistics are settled, we can all hunker down for the real work: neurotically debating if the new season will be good or not.
Critics often treat fan approval as a kind of consolation prize, but fans can be the harshest critics. They know what seasons are best, which characters are safe and which are throwaways. They keep track of theories and ratings and cast changes. They keep shows on air. While some people will feel obligated to always "like" a show, most fans will express frustrations and disappointment openly.
Favorite shows have the privilege of occupying our limited free time. Personally, I might have stressful week, but I try to save an hour for The Americans, and Jane the Virgin (an excellent combo, in my view). Bearing witness to the great art of an era is an essential human experience; we all hunger for the contemporaneous pride of, "Yes kids, I watched the Breaking Bad finale live." Television has worked hard in its first century of life to prove that it's art; sometimes, it's even great art.
Even when TV isn't great art, it's still a loved medium. The "philosopher"/musician Ezra Koenig once mused, "I guess 'bad' music would be music that nobody likes. But does that actually exist?"
Is there such a thing as a TV show nobody likes? Does that necessarily mean it's not bad, or just that it’s just a different kind of good, as in: so-bad-its-good?
Simply put, TV involves investment, whether it's merely an investment of your time, or it engages your emotions and/or critical thinking skills. Any investment breeds expectation, and reboots spawn complicated and particularly impossible ones.
I grew up on TGIF/Nick at Nite's programming, but Full House never a favorite. So when my friend Micaela invited me over to view the spin-off-reboot, Fuller House, I agreed without trepidation. I didn’t expect it to be good, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The sitcom centers on DJ Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron Bure), now a veterinarian and recent widow with three kids, struggling to keep her head above water. Following the collaborative cool-dad group parenting example of Danny (Bob Saget), Joey (Dave Coulier), and Jesse (John Stamos), little sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and BFF Kimmy (Andrea Barber) move in to help shoulder DJ's load, but bring their own baggage instead.
As has been repeatedly belabored, the pilot of Fuller House is stiff, shrill, and unfunny. As the Washington Post’s critic put it, in a quote I have since memorized, "There's a point where nostalgia becomes more like necrophilia, and 'Fuller House' immediately crosses that line."
John Stamos defended the show with his on-brand charm during a March appearance on Late Night. He encouraged people to watch past the pilot, and sloughed off the "wacky" reviews with an air of "you're all taking this too seriously".
Yet, isn't the point of criticizing a show -- even a comedy -- to take it seriously on some level? Isn't being a fan of something about seriously liking it and seriously spending time on it?
The Fuller House crit-storm and my indifference towards it reminded me of another contested reboot, one I took a bit more personally.
When season four of Arrested Development aired, I was recovering from surgery at a friend's house. I had tracked the series' return with the same measure of meticulousness it took to plan my medical procedure.
We made frozen banana snacks and binged the season over two days, culminating with stream-of-consciousness feedback from me, including such thoughts as, "by focusing on individual characters, the overall chemistry suffered", and "this was an exercise in intricacy, not comedy".
Known for its over-the-top egos and fastidious timing, the half-hour cult-classic features the Freudian dysfunction of the Bluth family as they try to preserve their good fortune in the wake of their patriarch's scandal. The series ran three seasons on Fox before tragic, self-aware cancellation. Then, in 2013, Arrested Development moved its things into Netflix's garage and became one of the company’s "semi-original" series.
Each of the fourth season's ten episodes follow a specific character, with arcs and events overlapping precisely to deliver an ever-widening look at the plot; Mike Hale called it "'Rashomon' on steroids". Other critical accusations targeted slow storytelling, overly long episodes, and poor green screen effects (for cast members who couldn't make it to set).
Many people didn't like the new season specifically because it wasn't like the others. As TV Guide's reviewer noted, "I fell in love with Arrested Development for its density, intricacy and the dysfunctional Bluth family as a whole. But unfortunately, these aspects were absent for the first half of Season ."
Season four of Arrested Development hurt because it was different in a very unexpected way. Yet, I've since come to embrace and appreciate season four for its differences. After all, it's by definition not the other seasons. It's season four. I've chilled out.
Perhaps my most painful letdown was this year's tenth season of The X-Files, a reboot of Chris Carter’s conspiratorial hour-long darling, wherein two FBI agents, one a "believer" and the other a skeptic, investigate paranormal and extraterrestrial activity. The series spawned two feature films, and ran nine wonderful and highly inconsistent seasons on Fox before wrapping in 2002.
The long-winded 2016 "pilot" felt like a wet sock to the face, and while the series picked up momentum farther into its six-episode special run, I eventually tuned out altogether. I wasn’t super disappointed; I just stopped feeling committed, which actually felt worse. It made me feel like I wasn’t even a fan.
So I like reboots because they bring back the shows I fell in love with, but I don’t want them to be too predictable. I like reboots because they re-activate the fan experience, but I don't want my loyalty exploited or taken for granted. I want reboots to be these perfect encores, when in reality no show is perfect in the first place.
During its first season, Twin Peaks amassed a substantial following, forever changing the expectations for primetime TV in its wake. As Dennis Lim's excellent overview explains, "Twin Peaks didn't break the rules of dramatic television so much as subtly derange them."
Unfortunately, ABC didn't believe in Lynch and Frost's continued vision for Twin Peaks, worrying viewers would grow bored with dream sequences and no hard answers. The network forced Frost and Lynch to solve Laura's murder, resulting in a riveting mid-second-season finale, then a sudden downward spiral. The show continued on to other plots, introducing new bad guys and love interests, but ratings never recovered. It was cancelled in 1991, after two seasons.
So my expectations are contradictory, and my memory is rose-colored. What else?
Well, if I'm being fully vain I need to ask: Will a flop translate as some kind of interpersonal embarrassment? Will my TV-loving name be tarnished if season three fails to deliver? Will I backpedal, shrug off the hurt, and seek familiar shelter in, "Yeah it's bad, but it's bad in a good way"?
Or will I remain willfully dedicated, flinching when someone remarks, "I heard the new season sucked", and quietly pulling a list of searing rejoinders out of my back pocket?
At the end of the day, I think I’m just plain, stupid excited.
I discovered my favorite show 20 years after it originally aired. There was no waiting or speculating, just instant access to both seasons and all the spoilers I wanted. This time around, I get the anticipation. I get more than the afterburn. There are cryptic promos and a resurgence of kitschy paraphernalia to look forward too. And David Lynch has a twitter now.
No review, however ruthless and accurate, can quantify this freaky, pine-smelling renaissance. That's more than beautiful; it's flop proof.