Monthly Archives: March 2017


Watching “Twin Peaks” back in 1990 used to fill me with dread, but it’s a different kind of dread I feel now at the show’s impending revival on Showtime.  Do we really need to revisit this series and potentially spoil our memories of one of the weirdest and most original TV shows of all time?

I sure hope series creator David Lynch has something more to say and is not just looking for a paycheck, because it sure seemed that he had already squeezed more out of this tale than it could reasonably bear. Even before it went off the air after 29 episodes, it had run dry of ideas and been reduced to gimmicks and increasingly bizarre plot twists. And then there was a reunion movie, the less said about the better.

The weirdest thing about “Twin Peaks” is that it was on the air at all.  TV in 1990 was dominated by the four major broadcast networks with their paint-by-numbers dramas and prime time soap operas. No one had seen anything like this moody and discursive show, where plot took a back seat to atmospherics, dream sequences and raw emotion. And yet the pilot attracted 34 million viewers and “Who killed Laura Palmer?” briefly became a national obsession, justifying a hilarious parody on Saturday Night Live.

In anticipation of the revival and to see whether the show was actually as good as I remembered, I recently watched the original series on Netflix. To revisit “Twin Peaks” after all these years is to be transported back in time.  The show was so intense and out of the ordinary that even the opening notes of the theme song evoke specific memories of people and places from that era.  (And what a great theme.)

While rewatching “Twin Peaks,” the thing that struck me immediately is how much “Stranger Things,” that recent Netflix homage to the eighties, owes to it.  They were both creepy small-town mysteries with handsome sheriffs trying to combat the evil supernatural forces that thrived out in the dark woods.  Both shows deal with parental angst, class divisions, and bullies.

The difference is that “Twin Peaks” turns up the volume to eleven in every aspect and preys insidiously on the cultural anxieties of the late 1980s.  There’s a sweetness and innocence running through “Stranger Things” that is entirely missing in “Twin Peaks,” where unbridled sexuality, greed and drugs threaten to snuff out all that is good in small town life.

And speaking of small towns, I’ve lived in a few and I can tell you that the percentage of drop-dead beautiful girls is much higher in the town of Twin Peaks than it is anywhere else in the universe.

Twin Paks girls

Twin Peaks Girls 2

This is not what the girls looked like when I was in high school

Even 27 years later, “Twin Peaks” has the power to shock, and not just through the murder of a beautiful girl, which is now a commonplace trope, but through Davis Lynch’s eerie direction and Angelo Badalamenti’s otherworldly musical score.  Lynch also got more disorientation out of oddball casting than anyone, except for perhaps John Waters. He resurrected former “West Side Story” co-stars Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn from obscurity, and gave major parts to “The Mod Squad’s” Peggy Lipton and “Carrie’s” Piper Laurie.  Seeing them all in “Twin Peaks” was just plain weird, then and now.

And yet, to be honest, the emotional impact of some scenes is undercut by the overwrought acting.  I actually laughed out loud at the wailing at Laura Palmer’s funeral, which was so over-the-top.  And throughout the whole series the characters show little nuance or depth – they are either good, bad, delusional or perceptive with no grays.

The real man of mystery at the center of the show is FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan.  Outwardly, Cooper is a model FBI bureaucrat – straight-laced and playing it by the book.  But he’s full of quirks, including his over-enthusiasm for coffee and pie and a habit of dictating his every thought into a tape recorder for an unseen “Diane.” He’s also remarkably intuitive, able to tell at a glance who’s sleeping with whom, and prone to dreaming about dancing dwarves.

As great as it was, “Twin Peaks” is a cautionary tale about extending a series beyond its natural life.  Once Laura Palmer’s murder was solved, there was no reason for the series to continue, but in those days, TV shows ran until their ratings got low enough to be cancelled, which happened just 15 episodes past the murder resolution.

“Lost,” that other popular show with a supernatural mystery at its heart, lasted far longer than “Twin Peaks,” but still tried its viewers’ patience to the breaking point.  More recently, “Mr. Robot” fell into the “Twin Peaks” trap, with a wildly original debut and an audience-displeasing sophomore season.  In the same vein, I am worried about the upcoming second season of “Stranger Things,” given that the first season was a near-perfect extended movie on its own with no need of a sequel.

Despite my reservations about what a contemporary “Twin Peaks” will bring, I’ll definitely watch it.  David Lynch is too great a filmmaker to blow him off.  My curiosity is mounting day by day.   I don’t expect lightning to strike twice, though.  And to be honest, I just hope I can make it through the end of the run.


Trump press corps

I am not one for conspiracy theories but I’m beginning to wonder about what’s up with the feud between the Trump Administration and the press corps. They ostensibly hate each other but somehow this bickering redounds to the benefit of both of them.

TV news ratings surged during the 2016 political season, when the media gave the then-long shot candidate Trump billions of dollars in free publicity, and they haven’t abated much during the early days of his presidency. The print media seems to doing equally well, with the New York Times reporting a quarter million increase paid digital subscriptions last quarter.

Consider the case of CNN’s Jake Tapper, well-known to political junkies but relatively invisible to the vast American public – at least until he was the subject of a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Kellyanne Conway with a fatal attraction for being booked on his show. How many other political reporters have, like Tapper, seen their visibility soar since they started hooking horns with the Administration? Maybe someone like Rachel Maddow, whose All Trump All the Time diatribes have sent her ratings soaring?

For his part, Trump’s refusal to abide by the niceties of established presidential decorum has kept him front and center of the American consciousness almost every single day since January 20. Plus it makes him a big hero among that very sizable portion of the U.S. public that absolutely loathes the media.

I honestly don’t think news organizations understand the full extent to which conservatives despise them. If they did they wouldn’t wear it like a badge of honor or think they must be doing something right whenever conservatives complain. This antipathy predates Trump by thirty years and his willingness to endure media scorn is precisely what propelled him to power.

When Trump and the media go at it, they are like the codependent parents of a dysfunctional family and the rest of us are the innocent kids who wish they’d either stop fighting or just get divorced. It’s exhausting and there’s never a day off because whenever it starts to get normal, Trump will wake up on a Saturday morning and tweet something crazy, giving the media another excuse to go berserk when the rest of us would just like to take a nap.

The reason recent presidents have tried unconventional ways of communicating with the public is that traditional media have lost interest in being the main vehicle through which presidents get their message across. Two or three decades ago you could count on the president giving three or four major policy addresses a year, plus few annual primetime press conferences. These were all dutifully presented live on TV before huge audiences.

Then the networks, under competitive pressure from entertainment cable channels that had no intention of covering a presidential speech, decided there was no “news value” in primetime presidential addresses and dropped them altogether. Adieu primetime Oval Office speeches. What we got instead was the spectacle of the president of the United States appearing on Zack Galafanakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee” and Mark Maron’s “WTF” podcast. It was a short step from that to Twitter.

To hear the media and the left tell it Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a secret plan to inaugurate American fascism. But what has he done besides name-calling? OK, it wasn’t nice to call them the “enemy of the people” or to blast them to their face in an impromptu press conference, but it was the Obama Administration that used the Espionage Act to go after whistle blowers who leaked to the press and who destroyed press privileges in the federal Fourth Circuit court with subpoenas against The New York Times reporter James Risen.

Oh sure, there is the incident in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times and CNN from a background briefing that was attended by Breitbart and The Washington Times. This has to be the most inconsequential inside baseball story in the young history of the Trump administration.

These small gatherings, called “gaggles,” involve a chosen few reporters who come into the press secretary’s office and get some background information. There is always a pool reporter present who reports back what was said so The New York Times and CNN were able to use that information to inform their readers and viewers of any news that transpired. And besides, remember when the Obama Administration tried to keep Fox News out of their briefings?

What GaggleGate boils down to is that Spicer was petty in not inviting some A-list reporters he didn’t like into his office and these reporters got their noses out of joint. For some reason this was national news.

Clearly there is no censorship or “chilling” of press freedom in this country. Trump gets pounded pretty good by the media every day, and I suspect he secretly likes it, being a practitioner of the “any news is good news” approach to publicity. The media doesn’t HAVE to go caterwauling every time Trump calls them a bad name, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to call attention to themselves either.

So Trump and the media are having a jolly old time slugging it out with us, the innocent public, caught in the middle. This was starting to get old even before the Inauguration but now that we’re two months into the Presidency, can we please dial it back and hear about something else that’s happening in the world?