Wednesday, April 08, 2015

'Twin Peaks" Isn't 'The Muppets' and Still Needs its Creator, David Lynch

It is largely accepted that we're currently in a new creative Golden Age of television with critically beloved and original series like The Americans, True Detective, and House of Cards (to name a very few). Of course, House of Cards doesn't fit under traditional definition of television as it is an exclusive series to the streaming service, Netflix, but I'm sure a large group watch it on their TV. Despite a wealth of fresh and innovative programming, we've witnessed networks and cable channels following the sad path of the movie studios by eagerly gobbling up reboots, remakes or extensions of "popular" works (not sure if anyone was demanding a Problem Child series).

While I've rolled my eyes and sometimes even groaned over what is dragged out from the far reaches of the closet, Twin Peaks was the returning series that I was genuinely thrilled to see. In the very least, it gave me a reason to revisit the original and have a reason to sell around the concept of writing retro-reviews. Of course, then Netflix suddenly dropped it from their service when it would have been at it hottest. Then again, maybe they had a crystal ball handy.

David Lynch announced this week that he will be departing from the Twin Peaks series that is scheduled to be made for Showtime. At this point it looks like Showtime has every intention of moving forward with the series. It looks like they aren't quite willing to write-off Lynch as directing and being involved quite yet.

There is a good reason they aren't eagerly moving past Lynch despite his public declaration he is off the project.

As ridiculous as many of these rebooted or reimagined series sound, I know that I have to look past recreations that seem to exist for money rather than creative reasons and accept that each has the potential to be delightful surprises. Fargo sounded like an awful idea, especially with Coen's having minimal involvement, and it ended up being one of the very best series of 2014 and I'm eagerly anticipating the second season. It worked because despite likely being greenlit over the established name, it became its own series and also extended the canon of the original movie and played homage to many of the Coen brothers' movies. 12 Monkeys was another series that seemed like a bad idea, but then it became clear they were also using the initial idea of the movie to launch a very different sci-fi adventure serial. The first episode jarred me a little as it totally lacked Terry Gilliam's visual style and evocative imagery, but then I got hooked on the new story and accepted it as something completely different. The point being that many of these works that can be remade can exist and be good without the hands-on involvement of the creator.

Twin Peaks absolutely needs David Lynch. There isn't any possible reason for the series to relaunch without his direction and vision. "Lynchian" is an accepted adjective in pop culture for a reason, because the director has a very distinct style and storytelling sense. He established himself with films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet, but the term is most associated with Twin Peaks. Of everything he has done in his renowned career, it is this series he is most tightly associated with among most and you also don't mention Twin Peaks without thinking David Lynch.

Lynch created an almost idyllic and postcard like small suburban town that exudes warmth and friendliness at the surface but hides an unshakeable evilness. It is a cynical gaze upon small town America, the place that is supposed to be safer and better than the big cities. Lynch unveils the dark side and the nasty secrets while also sprinkling in his own brand of bizarreness and eccentricities. He has a directorial style that feels contemporary and straight from the arthouse with a mix of classic filmmaking of the 1940 and 1950s. Even if his expert incorporation of music and ambitious camera shots didn't exist, he crafted an original and haunting tale.

I recognize that David Lynch isn't the only reason that Twin Peaks is a respected, beloved, and ground-breaking TV series from the early 1990s that has now become one of the most anticipated series to ever be relaunched. Mark Frost is the co-creator of the series and is still attached to write all the scripts for the new series. There is still a very strong chance it will be a high quality series. But the perception always has been that Lynch is Twin Peaks and that is almost impossible to shake, as there are very few series that are so synonymous with one person.

The concept of the picture-perfect small town that is nothing more than a facade hiding dangerous secrets has been revisited several times under different titles after the original series went off the air. The investigator or protagonist that is on a case and believing one thing at first to then be plunged into a labyrinth of bizarre and supernatural twists is even less rare. Twin Peaks has influenced many shows but has also meant that it isn't drastically different anymore and the basic story itself isn't one that viewers are starving to consume. It was largely what came with Twin Peaks -- David Lynch.

We've got a rather Twin Peaks like show coming up in less than a month in Fox's Wayward Pines. Even the title can't really avoid evoking memories of the series. The May premiere slot sort of hints that it may not turn out to be that very good, but we could be surprised and then left wondering if Twin Peaks has what it really takes to truly stand out. The fact "clones" are cropping up again and the potential there will be for competing series filled with the supernatural and macabre, it might be time to revisit how important the actual brand name of Twin Peaks is without David Lynch.

The series may need a renovations and massive upheaval or even a tossing off a cliff and keep the elements of what made Twin Peaks work but not actually be Twin Peaks. Rather follow the lead of Wayward Pines and just become something eerily similar and to be less kind, a knock-off. It is far easier to be compared to a M. Night Shyamalan production than David Lynch's baby that many have been eagerly awaiting to hold and rock again.

Or I could be completely misguided here and fail to see that the Twin Peaks name has usurped the creator. Or it is long enough that the most coveted viewers are only vaguely aware of Lynch. I don't think I'm wrong that the series needs Lynch, but the past week has proven that some creations do far outlive the creator.

Jim Henson has always been connected with the Muppets. In the 1980s, it would have been impossible to imagine a show or movie without his involvement,. Now, it is impossible for him to be attached other than acknowledgement he was the creator. Yet Muppets are at a revitalization stage and have the potential to be at their strongest in decades.

Part of that is that Henson's family is still involved and those close to him are ensuring his vision stays alive. It is also a stable piece of pop culture art that has permeated through many childhoods for several decades and it has a strong enough foothld that other artistic folks can come in with their own touches without causing it to topple. The last few years have also helped in proving it can remain a top notch series.

Right after I watched the great 2011 The Muppets movie, I felt a powerful nostalgia for the old series. Probably partly because the movie was about resurrecting the show and making the Muppets relevant again. It seemed to be the time was right to relaunch the series, but it looked like Disney didn't quite trust it even though the picture was a hit.

Variety shows are now making a bit of a comeback. The idea of event television is even a bigger deal. A short-run The Muppets Show can serve both. It is also just the right kind of nostalgia that will draw back people like me but also be just as appealing to my son and children. It could work to many generations, which is another major thing in modern strategies as it becomes harder and harder to get a foothold in the crowd entertainment arena.

My bubbling excitement for The Muppets Show proves that the art can surpass the artist. I didn't have a single hesitation of the announcement the series was returning despite there not being any Jim Henson. It doesn't flatten me out the same way the announcement of a Lynch-less Twin Peaks.

There is a chance Lynch returns. If he doesn't the series will have a chance to prove it can be so much more than just the original director's vision. For now, I am whole lot more excited for the frog.

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