TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. After a 26-year absence from television, "Twin Peaks" returned last night. Its creators are the same as on the original ABC series David Lynch and Mark Frost. This time, though, "Twin Peaks" the return was shown on the Showtime cable network and wasn't sent out for TV critics to preview. But our TV critic David Bianculli watched it last night and has this report today.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The original "Twin Peaks" series really was original. One of the most inventive, unprecedented, sometimes thrillingly unique TV series ever presented. David Lynch directed several episodes including the very best ones, the mood establishing pilot and the dreamy and nightmarish third episode with a Tibetan rock-throwing-and-the-dancing-backwards-talking little man in the red room. And he and his fellow creator, writer and producer Mark Frost delivered a first season of episodes about the death of a small town high school girl named Laura Palmer that were unforgettable and still pretty much unmatchable.
The second season with Lynch mostly off making movies was much more incoherent and unsatisfying. But even it had its moments and its scenes and subplots that stood out from everything else on TV. A quarter of a century later, the original "Twin Peaks" is still being imitated, and the closest TV has come in all that time until now has been the just concluded first season of The FX series "Legion" by gifted TV producer Noah Hawley.
But "Twin Peaks" always had a built-in way to mount its own sequel, especially one produced 25 years later. In the original series in a dream sequence in that surrealistic, red-curtained, red room, a woman who looks like a more mature Laura Palmer makes a promise to an older looking Dale Cooper, the FBI agent played by Kyle MacLachlan who had come to Twin Peaks to solve her murder. It was subtitled and hard to understand because this Laura played by Sheryl Lee is speaking backwards - sort of. It's not worth the time it would take to explain, but what she tells him is I'll see you again in 25 years, meanwhile. And that exact scene is shown again at the start of "Twin Peaks" the return to set this next generation story cycle in motion.
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SHERYL LEE: (As Laura Palmer) I'll see you again in 25 years, meanwhile.
BIANCULLI: Meanwhile, if you didn't see last night's two-hour premiere, Showtime is making it extremely easy for you to correct that oversight. The first two hours of "Twin Peaks" the return are repeated on Showtime every night this week. And on Showtime on demand, viewers can see not only the first two hours, but the next two, the ones that won't be televised nationally until this Sunday. Those hours - three and four - began showing on demand at midnight, and I've watched those, too.
Fans of the original series - and I'm certainly one of those - should delight in every encounter with a familiar plotline setting or character. So many characters are slated to appear over this new show's run that it hardly seems spoiling anything to mention just a few. Ben Horne and his brother, Jerry, and Lucy and Andy and the Log Lady all show up in the first two episodes. And the FBI character is played by David Duchovny and by Miguel Ferrer and by David Lynch himself show up in the next two. But for newcomers to the narrative, that means nothing and to anyone watching, there are new characters and new settings everywhere.
The new "Twin Peaks" does take us to Twin Peaks, but at first, only briefly. It also takes us in the first four hours to South Dakota, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and most powerfully to New York City where a young man named Sam played by Ben Rosenfield has a very strange job in a very secluded warehouse loft. As he explains to his infatuated and seductive visitor played by Madeline Zima from "Californication." He's supposed to keep a photographic record of this mysterious giant, glass box and watch it very, very closely.
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MADELINE ZIMA: (As Tracey) What is that thing?
BEN ROSENFIELD: (As Sam Colby) A glass box.
ZIMA: (As Tracey) Yeah. But what's it for?
ROSENFIELD: (As Sam Colby) I really don't know. It's just a job I got to help with school.
ZIMA: (As Tracey) Who's place is this?
ROSENFIELD: (As Sam Colby) I heard a billionaire, some anonymous billionaire.
ZIMA: (As Tracey) Mysterious.
ROSENFIELD: (As Sam Colby) I'm supposed to watch the box and see if anything appears inside.
BIANCULLI: Funny - that's pretty much a description of my job. And after watching four of the 18 new hours of "Twin Peaks" I'm still a long way from rendering a final verdict. After four hours, Dale Cooper still isn't acting quite like himself, but there are some truly creepy scenes, ruthless murders, other worldly settings and, as always, Lynch's fondness for slow pacing and eccentric characters.
Sometimes this new "Twin Peaks" almost seems like a parody of itself. Other times, it just feels wrong with scenes that could have been written more solidly or eliminated entirely like that talking tree. But then there are times in all four of these opening hours when this new show feels so right, so dreamlike, so - so very "Twin Peaks." I think I have to come back when this entire narrative is over to discuss whether this new "Twin Peaks" is a success. But for now, I'm very happy to do what I suggest you do as well. Watch the box and see if anything really special appears inside.
GROSS: David Bianculli teaches TV and film history at Rowan University and is the author of "The Platinum Age Of Television: From I Love Lucy To The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific."
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GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, the human body in its most vulnerable and disturbing state. We talk with medical historian Richard Barnett about his trilogy of illustrated books on the history of disease, surgery and the latest dentistry. These books include paintings, woodcuts and illustrations, some dating back centuries of surgical procedures, cancers, leprosy, rotting teeth. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
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