Twin Peaks: The First Season (DVD)
Due to legal issues too convoluted to dignify with an explanation, David Lynch's brilliant two-hour pilot has not been included on Twin Peaks: The First Season, an otherwise stellar four-disc boxed set of perhaps the greatest anomaly in network television history. Without the pilot, which is still available on a cruddy but essential region-free Taiwanese DVD, the first season loses the intense emotional anguish that underlies its canny marriage of daytime melodrama, intricate suspense plotting, and free-floating oddity. Though the liner notes include a helpful summary and character profiles, they can't begin to express what the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) meant to the residents of a timeless small town in the Pacific Northwestor, for that matter, to the millions of viewers that made the series such an unlikely sensation. But accepted on its own terms, this sterling seven-episode special edition, beautifully designed and packed with commentaries and eclectic features, harks back to a great moment when television dreamed of being more than just TV. Created by Lynch and Mark Frost (Hill Street Blues), Twin Peaks returns to the retro-'50s Americana of Lynch's Blue Velvet, devising a close-knit community of hipsters, squares, and oldies with more dark secrets than its gee-whiz surface would suggest. When Lee's body is found on a riverbank, "wrapped in plastic," the news ripples through town like a curse, unearthing small pockets of evil that had never been acknowledged, and forcing its residents to finally come to terms with them. ("Everyone knew she was in trouble," rages boyfriend Dana Ashbrook, "but no one did anything about it.") As a cheerily eccentric FBI agent who enthuses over the simple pleasures of fresh black coffee, huckleberry pie, and "the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham," Kyle MacLachlan is the perfect man for the case, a remarkably intuitive investigator who appreciates the town's essential goodness. Working closely with aptly named local sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean), MacLachlan finds an array of suspects with connections to Lee, including her psychologist (Russ Tamblyn), her "secret" boyfriend (James Marshall), her unhinged father (Ray Wise), and a snarling trucker (Eric DaRe) with an explosive temper. The first season introduces many other characters, most notably mischievous bad girl Sherilyn Fenn and her good-girl counterpart Lara Flynn Boyle, and numerous other subplots, some of which are only marginally related to Lee's death. In a medium that tends to draw an iron curtain between one genre and another, Twin Peaks freely meshed the heightened emotions of soap operas and suspense while constantly tweaking both into bizarre new territory. While it may seem hard to believe that the public was once held rapt by "The Log Lady," a backwards-talking dream, and a woman's obsession with noiseless drapes, the show remains incredibly seductive, tapping into a rich vein of nostalgia for a small-town America that has never existed. Of the seven episodes in the first season, only the one directed by Lynchwith the hilariously tactless FBI agent Miguel Ferrer, MacLachlan's Tibet-inspired method of hurling rocks at a bottle from a set distance, and the "Red Room"approaches the pilot's inspired weirdness. Yet even at its most pedestrian, Twin Peaks insistently pushed the limits of network television, offering a fleeting glimpse of what popular entertainment looks like in an alternate universe.