Unlike most folks, I never paid any attention to “Twin Peaks” until very recently. When I read that a new season would begin filming — 20+ years after the original season — on site near my home in Sammamish, WA, I figured I should check out the original show on Netflix to see what all the fuss was about.
After working my way through most of the original two seasons and spending countless hours letting it digest without trying to think too much about the plot or the meaning, I finally had an epiphany: “Twin Peaks” is basically “Portlandia” in subtler form.
SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post assumes you’ve watched the show. There might be spoilers from here on out, but probably none of much consequence. Anyway, you have been warned.
For anyone who’s been living in a cave, “Portlandia” is sort of a caricature of various quirky stereotypes commonly found around Portland, OR. If you’ve never lived in the Pacific Northwest or visited Portland, let me fill you in: everything in that show is absolutely true. It’s probably funnier if you assume it’s all exaggeration, but I assure you, it really isn’t. Somewhere in Portland, right now, there really is a nutjob riding a bicycle as if he has all the right-of-way in the world because he’s “on a bike here!”, and there really are snobs in a restaurant someplace asking their waiter to confirm that their chicken dinner was made from free-range chickens raised by a polygamy-practicing hippie cult.
“Twin Peaks” isn’t a comedy, and it doesn’t leverage sarcasm, but I’ve realized it’s got the same essence. Every character, subplot, and aspect of the show is designed to make fun of Seattle-area culture. The difference is that while “Portlandia” wants the audience (even Portland natives) to be in on the joke and have a laugh, “Twin Peaks” is more like an Andy Kaufman act: the joke is squarely on the audience, requiring one to step outside the whole thing to even recognize the meta-humor.
Let’s start with the title, “Twin Peaks”. If that doesn’t scream “boobs”, I don’t know what does. No, not the anatomical kind. I’m referring to boobs, as in idiots, morons, weirdos, and gullible nincompoops. The very title of the show is plainly saying what the show is about.
Seriously, stick with me here. Allow me to explain further.
Think about the characters, and the premise, as they are set out in the pilot episode: a murdered girl, a grieving father, a small town sheriff, an FBI agent called in to help. It all starts normally enough. And yet, something is already a bit off, foreshadowing events to come: the music and acting are eye-rollingly gut-wrenchingly overdramatic. The execution is more like a soap opera than a weekly prime time show. Why would the director do it this way? Because soap operas are widely known for taking themselves way too seriously, and we all know the only people who really take them seriously are complete dimwits. The music and acting style clearly say: If you take this show seriously, you’re a gullible boob.
Well, don’t feel too bad. It’s easy enough to be a boob for a little while, because things get weird gradually enough that you either don’t notice it starting to happen or you just keep suspending increasing amounts of disbelief. In this way, many people have likened the show to “Lost”. Except “Lost” got increasingly weird in large part because it went on for so many seasons and the writers never really knew where it was going. “Twin Peaks” doesn’t feel that haphazard or accidental, partly because it never attempts to explain anything even halfway in the first place, and partly because it’s only two seasons long.
Every character in the show is the kind of kook nobody sensible would ever take seriously. A woman who talks to a log? An FBI agent who guides his investigation based on dreams about a dancing midget? A town psychiatrist who always wears 3D glasses and is happily married to a Hawaiian woman who doesn’t live with him? A rotund obnoxious white woman dressed as an Asian businessman? An FBI boss who’s deaf as a post and yells at everyone? A weird local band that plays trance-like music in an old biker bar? A military man who claims to have been abducted by aliens?
And yet, time and time again, these characters and their nonsensical behaviors and explanations are flatly accepted by everyone else without question. Oh, you saw it in a vision? Okay, proceed. Oh, your log saw what? Ah, I see. Oh, you’re an Asian businessman? Sure you are, here’s your room key. The tacit acceptance of total idiocy at every turn is itself a form of idiocy, and it in turn breeds even more idiocy. People taking themselves, their own drama and weirdness, and each other way too seriously. They even take their coffee and local pie too seriously. It’s boobs blindly following other boobs. It’s “Twin Peaks”.
The entire show is a giant twisted thought experiment: What if we took a seemingly normal premise, except we set it in an area where everyone’s a boob, and let it run its course a while to see what happens? Hey, you know what would be really funny? If the kinds of boobs the show is about didn’t even get the joke and actually took the show seriously!