Twin Peaks season 1 (1990) review

It’s Twin Peaks week on That Was A Bit Mental! Over the course of the week I’ll be reviewing both seasons of David Lynch’s cult ’90s TV drama, as well as the movie Fire Walk With Me, the recently released deleted scenes The Missing Pieces and the European pilot of the show, which featured a different killer.

twinpeaks_s1_posterDirectors: David Lynch, Duwayne Dunham, Tina Rathbone, Tim Hunter, Lesli Linka Glatter, Caleb Deschanel, Mark Frost

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Peggy Lipton, James Marshall, Eric DaRe, Everett McGill, Joan Chen, Piper Laurie, Ray Wise, Sheryl Lee, Russ Tamblyn

“You know, this is – excuse me – a damn fine cup of coffee. I’ve had I can’t tell you how many cups of coffee in my life and this, this is one of the best. Now, I’d like two eggs over hard. I know, don’t tell me, it’s hard on the arteries, but old habits die hard, just about as hard as I want those eggs.” (Special Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks)

Recently Eastenders celebrated its 30th anniversary with a story based on the death of teenage character Lucy Beale. “Who killed Lucy Beale” was the question on the lips of numerous Brits for the past few weeks, and 9 million viewers tuned in to find out it was some kid nobody gives a seventeenth of a fuck about.

Now imagine a similar question being asked 25 years ago, in America, with nearly four times as many viewers and a brand new series nobody had heard of. And imagine the question had remained unanswered and much-discussed by the American public for almost an entire year. That’s Twin Peaks, innit.

Don't worry love, I'm sure they'll reveal the killer eventually
Don’t worry love, I’m sure they’ll reveal the killer eventually

When the two-hour pilot episode of Twin Peaks aired in the US on 8 April 1990 (my seventh birthday, incidentally), it blew US television viewers away. Not literally, mind.

Attracting an audience of 34.6 million people, it became the highest rated ‘TV movie’ that year and gathered massive interest for the seven-episode mini-series that was to follow, with one question – “who killed Laura Palmer?” – on everybody’s mind.

The pilot opens with the incident that will become the central focus of the entire series: the discovery of Laura Palmer’s body. Adored by seemingly the entire Twin Peaks community, Laura’s murder comes as a massive shock, but who would possibly want to kill her?

Over the course of the first season, it becomes clear there’s a whole bunch of potential suspects. Don’t get too emotionally involved right away, though: the question remains unanswered in season one, setting things up for the second season.

What makes Twin Peaks so special, though, is that you almost don’t care that Laura’s killer isn’t revealed right away. There’s so much going on elsewhere in this mountain town that Laura’s death is only one strand of hair in David Lynch’s big plot-riddled wig.

"Mr Palmer, I've got bad news. It's your daughter. The actress playing her has come back as her cousin"
“Mr Palmer, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. It’s your daughter. The actress playing her has come back as her cousin”

Explaining the plot of Twin Peaks is like describing a rainbow to a blind person, so allow me to handle it in a different way and list the main characters instead. This should be a good indication of the diversity of Twin Peaks’ population and the sheer number of different stories running through this first series.

First, a warning: there will be very minor spoilers here, but nothing that isn’t given away within the first few episodes. Besides, there’s so much information to take in here you’re guaranteed to forget most of it.

  • Laura Palmer – The dead one
  • Dale Cooper – The FBI agent, sent to Twin Peaks to investigate Laura’s death
  • Leland Palmer – Laura’s distraught dad. He’s a lawyer
  • Sarah Palmer – Laura’s similarly distraught mum. She has visions
  • Bobby Briggs – Laura’s ex boyfriend. He was shagging a diner waitress behind her back
  • Shelly Johnson – The diner waitress Bobby’s shagging. Even though she’s married
  • Leo Johnson – Shelly’s husband, who she’s cheating on. But he’s abusive so it’s fine
  • James Hurley – Biker chap. Laura was cheating on Bobby with him.
  • Donna Hayward – Laura’s best friend. She teams up with James to investigate Laura’s death and they end up falling in love.
  • Ben Horne – Owns Twin Peaks’ main hotel, a department store and another dodgy place I won’t spoil
  • Audrey Horne – Ben’s daughter. Token sexpot
See what I mean?
See what I mean?
  • Harry S. Truman – Twin Peaks’ sheriff. Helps Cooper investigate Laura’s death
  • Andy Brennan – Harry’s deputy. Dumb as a basket of wrenches
  • Lucy Moran – Receptionist at the police station. Is shagging Andy
  • Josie Packard – Has taken control of the Packard sawmill after her husband Andrew died. Is secretly shagging Sheriff Truman
  • Catherine Martell – Andrew’s sister, who wants to burn down the sawmill. Is secretly shagging Ben Horne
  • Pete Martell – Catherine’s husband. Isn’t secretly shagging anyone. One of the few nice people in Twin Peaks, basically
  • Norma Jennings – Owns the diner
  • Big Ed Hurley – Gas station owner, is secretly shagging Norma
  • Nadine Hurley – Ed’s wife. She has one eye and is obsessed with designing drapes
  • Hank Jennings – Norma’s husband, who’s in jail
  • Maddy Ferguson – Laura’s cousin, who looks identical to her (mainly because it’s the same actress in a shit black wig)
  • Dr Lawrence Jacoby – Laura’s psychiatrist, who clearly also wanted to shag her
  • The Log Lady – Weird woman who makes mystic predictions through a log she carries around with her
  • The Man From Another Place – A midget who talks backwards

That’s an enormous 25 characters, and I’m not even talking minor ones. Each of the names listed above is involved to a notable degree at some point during the first season.

"Sheriff, I've bought doughnuts for every major character in Twin Peaks." "I think you might need a few dozen more, Coop"
“Sheriff, I’ve bought doughnuts for every major character in Twin Peaks.” “I think you might need a few dozen more, Coop”

I haven’t even mentioned any of the countless other characters who only have minor roles to play in season one, such as arrogant forensics expert Albert Rosenfeld, or Native American deputy Hawk, or Donna’s parents, or Ben Horne’s playboy brother Jerry, or Bobby’s dad Major Garland Briggs, or the mysterious Renault brothers. Or the creepy chap with the long hair who seems to be appearing in people’s visions for some reason.

What makes Twin Peaks such an outstanding accomplishment is that even though we’re dealing with enough major characters here to fill an entire classroom, it never feels like there’s far too much to take in at once.

This is thanks to co-writers David Lynch and Mark Frost, who expertly juggle all these characters and storylines in way that is rarely confusing… at least, not during the first season. But more on that tomorrow.

What’s also remarkable is how non-Lynchian it all feels (look, I’ve decided that’s a word). David Lynch is well known for his surrealist and violent movies and while the latter comes through to some degree – Twin Peaks is certainly nastier than most other TV shows of its time – the first season rarely gets too bizarre, save for the occasional dream sequence.

"I doubt it mate, I chew Jimmy Saville branded gum"
“I doubt it mate, I chew Jimmy Saville branded gum”

The other thing that may surprise you is how funny it is. Interspersed among the tales of murder, domestic abuse, adultery, drug-dealing and prostitution are a steady stream of genuinely hilarious scenes, mainly involving the staff of the Sheriff’s department.

Deputy Andy and his on-off relationship with receptionist Lucy are by far the funniest couple in the show, providing most of the comic relief throughout and helping break up the gloomy bits.

The most praise, however, has to go to Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper. Coop is one of the quirkiest, most eccentric, endearing characters ever to appear on TV and every time he appears you feel yourself smiling.

There’s a reason the internet rejoiced when it was confirmed he’d be returning for the upcoming third season – Twin Peaks without Agent Cooper would be like Match Of The Day with all the footballs removed.

"Sweet Christ, that's a magnificent mug of Joe." "Indeed it is. Fancy ripping my drawers off?" "Nah, you're alright missus, let's maybe save it until 2016 when we're old and wrinkly"
“Sweet Christ, that’s a magnificent mug of Joe.” “Indeed it is. Fancy ripping my drawers off?” “Nah, you’re alright missus, let’s maybe save it until 2016 when we’re old and wrinkly”

There’s one other ‘character’ that deserves praise: the soundtrack. Angelo Badalamenti’s score is one of the finest ever created, with each of the show’s main themes immediately setting the scene before a word is even spoken.

You know when you hear Laura Palmer’s Theme it’s time for some melodrama, or when Audrey’s Dance plays you’re about to see some over-the-top flirtation, with Audrey essentially rubbing herself up and down every syllable she or anyone else utters. Without Badalamenti’s soundtrack, the show just wouldn’t have that unique feel and mood.

The first season of Twin Peaks remains a masterpiece 25 years after it first aired. There’s enough going on in these eight episodes to fill three seasons of any other show, but it’s presented with such expert pacing, direction and dialogue that it never overwhelms, at least not in that sense.

The second season is quite literally a different story (more on that tomorrow), but work your way through season one and there’s not a chance in hell you won’t want to keep watching to see what happens next. I can’t recommend it enough.


Twin Peaks season 1’s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see what else made the grade.

There are loads of ways to see Twin Peaks. The best is the recently released Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray box set, which features all 30 episodes, the movie Fire Walk With Me, the European pilot and The Missing Pieces, which contains 90 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes. Here’s the UK version and the US version.

Alternatively, the DVD-only brigade should go for Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition, however it should be noted that other than the obvious drop in visual quality, this is also missing Fire Walk With Me and The Missing Pieces. Here’s the UK and US versions.

If you’re on a budget or just aren’t sure if you want to commit fully to something you may not like, Brits can buy season one on its own on DVD. At the time of writing it’s only a tenner.

Finally, if you’re subscribed to a streaming service you may be in luck, as both seasons of Twin Peaks can also be found on Netflix in the US, and Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK. Phew.


6 thoughts on “Twin Peaks season 1 (1990) review

  1. Sorry to be technical here, but Nadine is not obsessed about making drapes. She’s obsessed with creating “Completely silent drape runners.” Which makes sense in the context, as she wanted to silently block out the fact that her husband was obviously cheating on her.

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