Review: Nostalgia fuels gorgeous, goofy and disturbing 'Twin Peaks' revival

Robert Bianco
Receptionist Lucy (Kimmy Robertson), left,  and deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) are still at the sheriff's department when 'Twin Peaks' returns on Showtime.

These days, being baffling may not be enough.

That's not to say that the appeal of David Lynch’s original Twin Peaks, which had the same effect on TV in 1990 as that meteor did on the dinosaurs, was limited to its ability to leave an audience feeling bewitched and bewildered. But there's little doubt that one of the big draws back then was Peaks' mind-boggling, ground-breaking willingness to leave an audience confused, to subject it to a barrage of strange images and stranger characters.  It was a breath of fresh — if incredibly unsettling — air.

Well, that was then. Showtime's revived Twin Peaks (Sundays, 9 ET/PT, *** out of four) lives in a whole new TV universe. There still may be no one who can match Lynch, who directed all 18 episodes, when it comes to "what-the-hell?" odd images, but his is clearly no longer the only bizarre game in town. Shows like Mr. Robot and Legion have borrowed Peaks' tricks and used them to tell a more coherent story, something that was never Peaks' strength.

Certainly, storytelling, at least in the most common sense of the word, was clearly not foremost in Lynch’s and co-writer Mark Frost's minds in Sunday's two-hour return. So what was? Well, nostalgia for one, a chance to let us say, "Look, Margaret 'Log Lady' Lanterman is still talking to her log," or "Hey, there’s Agent Cooper — or, well, both Agent Coopers, the good one trapped in the Red Room and the evil one loose in the world." (And let's just say that the Evil Coop is not star Kyle MacLachlan at his best).

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper remains in the baffling Red Room when 'Twin Peaks' returns on Showtime.

More importantly, though, the revival's premiere seemed to be their chance to use new techniques, bigger budgets and even more creative freedom to be even more visually creative and nightmarishly weird. As in, having a young man, whose job is to watch a glass box, get distracted by sex and pay for his inattention — and then cut to a murder scene that could just as well be a darkly comic take on CSI. Except where it leads drops the comic and keeps the dark.

Put them together, and you got two hours that were often gorgeous, sometimes goofy, frequently disturbing and far more graphically violent than the original — filled with performances that ranged from amusing to disquieting to the flat-out amateurish. You could accuse it of being self-indulgent, but then, that’s the entire point of bringing Peaks back: To indulge Lynch's desire to revisit the series with his gifts and desires completely unleashed.

Whether Showtime did Lynch any favors is another question. After all, part of what made the original so intriguing was the juxtaposition between what Peaks was doing and what the rest of ABC was doing: Lynch layered his surreal vision over what seemed to be a conventional TV murder mystery set in a small town. The problem, and the reason the ratings collapsed, was that the more the original let go of convention and gave in to oddity, the less intriguing the show became.

Hawk (Michael Horse) is now deputy chief at the sheriff's department in Showtime's 'Twin Peaks' revival.

Which is why the decision to jettison convention entirely may send up warning flares for some viewers and cause them to take a wary “fool me once” stance. For those who gave up on Peaks in its second season, the prospect of 18 hours of talking twig doppelgängers, floating Coopers, inexplicable concerts and brutal murders may be less than totally appealing. Just as for others, another chance to wander through the red-curtained halls of Lynch's imagination may be ideal.

If that's you, also prepare to be baffled.