If Twin Peaks was an actual mountain range with two scalable peaks, well, congratulations. You’ve reached the top of hike No. 1.
David Lynch’s 18-hour sequel season has aired nine “parts,” and anyone who’s stuck with it week-to-week, through all the cube staring, floor sweeping, and skull-crushing ghost hobos, knows it’s already been quite a trip.
But are you ready for more? Are we, as a society, prepared for another nine-hour climb through the dense forest of Lynch’s dreams?
When this journey started just seven weeks ago, no one knew what to expect. The secrecy implemented by Showtime and Lynch was unprecedented. There were (and are) no screeners for critics. Advertising was stripped of all images from the new season. Interviews were scarce, and stars weren’t allowed to say anything anyway. Plus, this is “Twin Peaks”: Any kind of guessing game as to “what’s next” was the ultimate exercise in futility.
To a large degree, it still is: The mysteries in “Twin Peaks” aren’t really the driving force of Lynch’s surrealist canvas. It’s about the reaction; the stimulus; the impact. So, now that we’re mid-way through, it’s pointless to guess how “The Return” will end. Instead, this is an assessment of what it’s already done and what it’s capable of doing; what we, as a culture, have drawn from it and whether, collectively, it’s worth watching nine more hours. (Hint: It is.)
To help each prospective hiker come to a decision, we’ll look at Season 3’s critical responses to better understand how audiences are watching “Twin Peaks.” We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Lynch is teaching us to watch TV differently with his new season. But what have we learned from him? Tomorrow, in Part 2 of our midseason report, we’ll dig into how ratings play into the equation, but now, as we prepare to ascend the season’s second mountain, this is what we know.
Critical Reaction, Then and Now
To say “Twin Peaks” had a critical fandom heading into its third season is a bit of an understatement. David Lynch’s two-season 1990s phenomenon survived to see a sequel because of its devoted followers: Critics, creators, and other industry veterans credited the series for inspiring everything from “Lost” to “Hannibal” and “Top of the Lake” to “The Leftovers.” It was ahead of its time. It was prestige TV a decade before people talked about prestige TV.
But critics are a fickle bunch. There was no guarantee the new offering would live up to its predecessor’s acclaim; not as it entered a landscape “Twin Peaks” helped shape 25 years prior. Early “Twin Peaks” reviews, when grouped together, read like a combination of nostalgic adoration and modern skepticism: Per RottenTomatoes, 94 percent of “The Return’s” initial reviews were positive and only dipped to 88 percent among top critics. Metacritic showed more conflict (as always), summing up the initial reaction with an average score of just 74. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s well below the top-reviewed seasons of 2017. (“The Leftovers” holds the top spot with a 98, and six more scripted seasons scored above 90.)
What’s the bottom line? Is the new “Twin Peaks” as good as the original? Or, to ask a better question, is it as meaningful? That’s difficult to answer, given how divisive the show (like all of Lynch’s work) has been since the start. Though the drama caused quite a stir when it debuted on ABC in 1990, there’s still no consensus as to where it fell off, if it fell off, or how it stacks up among iconic TV shows. In terms of challenging viewers to see TV differently, the original “Twin Peaks” set the bar. Today, there’s mind-boggling TV no matter which way you turn. But if you look at the positive and negative arguments about Season 3, its overall significance becomes clearer: Like it or loathe it, the show made an impact.
The Lovers and The Haters
Vulture, led by critic Matt Zoller Seitz, recently anointed “Twin Peaks” as the best show on TV and did so even though the choice violated its pre-established rules. Typically, limited series are disqualified from Vulture’s TV Awards and ongoing series need to complete their current season before being considered. That “Twin Peaks” tops the list despite defying both stipulations illustrates just how highly Seitz thinks of Lynch’s early episodes, and his adamant support of “The Return’s” first half means even more given he believes the original seasons “proved unable to sustain that initial burst of freshness” seen at the start. Seitz knows nothing is guaranteed, yet he’s already fully behind “The Return.”
“Twenty-seven years ago, the meteor of ‘Twin Peaks’ hit television. It didn’t wipe out all the dinosaurs, but it did make them aware that they were dinosaurs, and that itself was remarkable,” Seitz writes, noting how the series defies traditional criticism as much as it makes the best entries in our evolved golden age of television look tame in comparison — how “even showrunners whose triumphs are built on Lynchian foundations are in awe of it.”
“‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ feels like another moment of reckoning for the medium — another meteor. Where do we go from here?”
Continue reading for the alternate assessment, the two types of TV viewers, and what it means for “Twin Peaks.”